The Scull Auction: A Turning Point in Contemporary Art and Art Investing

The 1973 Scull auction stands as a watershed moment in the world of contemporary art and art investing. Organized by the renowned auction house Sotheby's, this groundbreaking event not only shattered sales records but also sparked a paradigm shift in how art was perceived, collected, and valued. This article explores the historical significance of the 1973 Scull auction, examining its impact on contemporary art and the subsequent evolution of art investing.

The auction was the brainchild of Robert C. Scull, an astute collector with a discerning eye for emerging contemporary artists. Scull's collection featured pieces by luminaries such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and, later, Jean-Michel Basquiat. By the early 1970s, these artists had gained significant recognition, both critically and commercially, and their works were in high demand.


The Historical Significance

1. Valuation Transformation:

The 1973 Scull auction marked a pivotal shift in the valuation of contemporary art. Before this event, contemporary artworks were often undervalued, overshadowed by the reverence given to traditional art forms. However, the record-breaking prices achieved at the auction challenged this perception and established contemporary art as a legitimate investment category. The exorbitant sums paid for works like Andy Warhol's "Turquoise Marilyn" ($2.2 million), Jasper Johns' "False Start" ($1 million), Roy Lichtenstein's "The Ring (Engagement)" ($550,000), and Robert Rauschenberg's "Buffalo II" ($30,000) demonstrated the newfound market value and potential returns of contemporary art.

2. Rise of Art Investment:

The auction also catalysed the rise of art as an investment vehicle. As collectors witnessed the remarkable returns earned by Scull's collection, art transitioned from being merely aesthetically pleasing to a strategic investment asset. The Scull auction created a sense of urgency among investors, propelling them to explore contemporary art as a viable financial instrument. This shift not only expanded the pool of collectors but also injected new capital into the art market, transforming it into a more robust and dynamic arena.

3. Recognition of Pop Art:

Pop art, a movement that celebrated popular culture and mass media imagery, gained substantial recognition through the Scull auction. Artists like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg, whose works dominated the auction, became synonymous with the Pop Art movement. The auction elevated their status as trailblazers who pushed the boundaries of artistic expression. This increased visibility helped popularize Pop Art and cement its significance within the contemporary art canon.

4. Democratisation of Art:

The 1973 Scull auction also played a role in the democratisation of art. By elevating contemporary artists to the same level as their historical counterparts, the auction challenged the notion that art collecting was exclusively reserved for the elite. This shift encouraged a more diverse audience to engage with contemporary art, fostering a broader appreciation for artistic innovation and expression. As art gained accessibility, it became a powerful tool for cultural expression and societal commentary.

Legacy and Contemporary Implications


The legacy of the 1973 Scull auction reverberates through the contemporary art world and art investing to this day. The auction's impact can be seen in the skyrocketing prices of contemporary artworks, the proliferation of art fairs and galleries, and the growing interest from institutional investors. Today, contemporary art is a thriving asset class, attracting both seasoned collectors and newcomers seeking to diversify their investment portfolios.

By challenging the prevailing norms and perceptions surrounding contemporary art, the 1973 Scull auction marked a turning point in the history of contemporary art and art investing. The auction’s legacy continues to shape the industry to this day, as contemporary art becomes an increasingly sought-after asset and a platform for artistic expression in the modern world.



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