Art World "Controversy" (read: "Gossip") >> The Robert and Ethel Scull Collection

Robert and Ethel Scull with Warhol, George Segal, and James Rosenquist

I would LOVE to see the show right now at Acquavella Gallery.  

This fascinating and much-maligned couple-- the Sculls-- amassed an amazing collection of Pop Art and AbEx before that, and actually are somewhat credited with driving the Pop Art movement's beginnings.

Warhol's "Ethel Scull, 36 Times," 1963

The Good:  

They commissioned Warhol's first portrait, gave James Rosenquist his first sale, bought an entire show of Jasper Johns when it wasn't selling, and gave George Segal enough money to quit his hairdresser job and focus full time on his art.

Rauschenburg, "Currency (Mona Lisa), 1958"

Robert bought the art, according to the awesome NYT article about the show, because of a genuine love and understanding of it, and he helped fund a struggling movement by buying it.  He and Ethel then even spurred a social scene that revolved around championing and buying the art.

Jasper Johns, "Map," 1961

The Bad:  

It was the sale of the art, at an auction in 1973, that made them much maligned.  The auction, which was seen as a scandal because of its pure money-grabbing motives, brought the couple $2.2 million. 

Interestingly, it is this auction that is seen as turning the art world into what it is today.  

Claes Oldenburg, "Cake Wedge," 1962

The Ugly:

Robert was originally able to buy the works with the money he got from his taxi empire, inherited from Ethel's father, and he and Ethel were seen as the epitome of social climbers.  

Even before the auction scandal, they were seen as tacky-- the NYT describes them as the "loud-talking, cigar-chomping, Jaguar-driving taxi king and his wife, who modeled Dior and Courrèges in Vogue." 

In fact, by the mid 1960s, Tom Wolfe had called them "the folk heroes of every social climber to ever hit New York."

Willem de Kooning, "Police Gazette," 1955

"They were vulgar, knew it, and didn't give a damn," said art critic and historian Irving Sandler, who actually meant it as a compliment, as he was stating why he liked them.  

I find it particularly interesting that they were such a patron and friend of Warhol, since their seeming superficiality and greed is exactly what Warhol was fascinated by.

George Segal, "Robert and Ethel Scull," 1965

The remaining works in their collection were sold at an auctionin 1986 after Robert's death (and their divorce) and were scattered all over the world.  

Now, Acquavella Gallery has gathered 44 of the pieces in the collection.  What an awesome exhibit.

Read the full article (very interesting) here.

For a sweeter tale of a (more humble) couple and their art collection, check out this post.

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