Metallica drummer finds years of studying art pays off to the tune of £9.1m

By Chris Gray
Thursday 20 March 2014 06:07

While most rock stars were losing themselves in the pleasures of drugs and groupies, Lars Ulrich preferred to spend the long hours on the road studying art books.

And the drummer and founder member of the heavy metal group Metallica tasted the fruits of his study when he sold five paintings from his collection for £9.1m this week.

Among the works that were auctioned by Christie's at the Rockefeller Centre in New York on Tuesday was a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Profit I, which went for £3.7m – a record for the artist.

Another of the works, Jean Dubuffet's Paris Montparnasse, sold for £3.3m, the second most expensive painting in the sale of post-war and contemporary art. Painted in 1961, it is regarded as a seminal example of the artist's urban vision.

From their debut album, Kill 'em All, onwards, Metallica's reputation was built on appealing to disaffected teenagers who see damaged hearing as a badge of honour. But away from the drum kit Ulrich is known to be a quiet, thoughtful man with an intense love of art.

Born in Denmark, the son of the tennis champion Torben Ulrich, he said collecting the CoBrA artists – a group of painters from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam – gave him a refuge from the pressures of the music industry.

He began visiting art galleries and museums in cities where Metallica played. The success of the band, which has sold £80m worth of albums worldwide, has given him free rein to indulge his hobby.

Ulrich is selling most of his collection to pay for a new home that he is building for his wife and two children on a 200-acre mountain site near San Francisco.

The New York sale, which will be followed by another in London next month, created excitement among contemporary art collectors, because although Ulrich had been collecting for a relatively short time he had managed to obtain some of the most sought-after works in the field.

"He is quite an intense collector," a spokeswoman for Metallica said. "He gets very caught up in it all, sometimes flying in and out of London in a day to see something at Sotheby's or Christie's."

The gem of his collection was Profit I, regarded as Basquiat's Guernica. Basquiat was a street-wise African-American artist whose primitive works propelled him to superstar status in the 1980s.

In Profit I – a painting that resembles graffiti on a wall – the hero is depicted both as a warrior and crucified victim emerging from darkness, imagery that would not be at all out of place on a heavy metal album cover.

And if Ulrich shatters the preconceptions of rock musicians' interests, Basquiat is closer to the stereotype. After a short but brilliant career he died of a heroin overdose in 1988.

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