"During the late 1950s and 1960s, Robert and Ethel Scull, owners of a lucrative taxi company, became fixtures on the New York gallery circuit, buying up the work of then-emerging Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist, and Pop artists in droves. Described by Tom Wolfe as “the folk heroes of every social climber who ever hit New York”—Robert was a high school drop-out from the Bronx—the Sculls shrewdly recognized that establishing themselves as influential art collectors offered access to the upper echelons of Manhattan society in a way that nouveau riche “taxi tycoon” did not.
Then, on October 18, 1973, in front of a slew of television cameras and a packed salesroom at the auction house Sotheby Parke Bernet, they put 50 works from their collection up for sale, ultimately netting $2.2 million—an unheard of sum for contemporary American art. More spectacular was the disparity between what the Sculls had initially paid, in some cases only a few years prior to the sale, and the prices they commanded at auction: A painting by Cy Twombly, originally purchased for $750, went for $40,000; Jasper Johns’s Double White Map, bought in 1965 for around $10,000, sold for $240,000. Robert Rauschenberg, who had sold his 1958 work Thaw to the Sculls for $900 and now saw it bring in $85,000, infamously confronted Robert Scull after the sale, shoving the collector and accusing him of exploiting artists’ labor. In a scathing essay published the following month in New York magazine, titled “Profit Without Honor,” the critic Barbara Rose described the sale as the moment “when the art world collapsed.”
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