What are the chances that I'll discover the next big art movement, purchase an entire show's worth of loot, and make a fortune before the rest of the art world even knows what hit them? Probably about as good as inventing time travel. But as unlikely as it sounds, way back in the early 60s, Robert and Ethel Scull had the prescience (and cash) to make pop art The Next Big Thing.
Robert and Ethel Scull, flanked by James Rosenquist, sculptor George Segal, and a little someone you may have heard of named Andy Warhol (played here by Andy Warhol). Not too shabby a lineup of art buddies, and in fact the Sculls had the foresight to be first in line to commission a Warhol portrait:
Ethel Scull 36 Times
As reported by The New York Times, the story of The Scull collection is almost laughable. They bought enormous quantities of what is now blue chip art at bargain basement prices. Somehow an entire Jasper Johns show (at Leo Castelli's now famous gallery, no less) was overlooked -- poor JJ didn't sell a thing until Mr. Scull scooped up the whole show. He also snagged a Rauschenburg combine painting for $900.
Oh, and a Warhol canvas for $3500.
When many of the works they collected in the 60s were auctioned off during the 70s and 80, the art world was "scandalized" at the profits these pieces yielded, seeing such brash and aggressive collecting as crass and vulgar.
But what's really funny is that, compared to today's ridiculously inflated art market -- which increasingly treats art as a commodity to be traded exclusively within the highest echelon of wealth and privilege -- they didn't even make that much money. To wit, their Warhol piece 200 Dollar Bills sold at a 1986 auction for the paltry sum of $385,000. At a Sotheby's auction last fall it sold for $46 million.
Which makes each dollar bill worth $230,000.
Here's a fancy Jasper Johns painting in the home of Agnes Gund. A similar piece from the original Scull collection is on view at Acquavella Galleries.
Well, Robert and Ethel, this round up of pop hits is for you, because I like the way you think, and I'm glad you rescued pop art from the gaping maws of history. Ok, that may be a small largeish overstatement, but without your keen sensibility, who knows whether the Jasper Johns show would have sold, or whether Andy's work would be as widespread as it is today. Or whether Pruitt and Early would have made these post pop homages to Warhol's Campbell Soup prints:
Hilarious. The rest of my decidedly less humorous roundup is as follows:
via Head Over Heels
Martha Angus via Eye Spy
Even though their contemporaries felt the Sculls made out like bandits, you get the sense that their philosophy of collecting was much different than today's point of view. Scull's son Jonathan says that his father "bought all that art because he was crazy for it, and nothing was going to get in his way." Seems a far cry from today's collectors, who more often than not view paintings as investments.
On the other hand, if the Sculls hadn't discovered these guys, maybe Jonathan could afford to buy back the painting that Jasper Johns gave him as a Bar Mitzvah present.
I suppose being ahead of one's time does have its disadvantages.