Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 7:30pm
John Schott and EJ Vaughn's America's Pop Collector: Robert C. Scull – Contemporary Art at Auction
Off Vendome, 254 West 23rd Street, No. 2, New York
America's Pop Collector: Robert C. Scull – Contemporary Art at Auction, John Schott and EJ Vaughn, 1974, 16mm, 72 mins
As a prelude to our upcoming benefit auction, hosted by Off Vendome, Light Industry will present a rare screening of America’s Pop Collector at the gallery's 23rd Street space.
Schott and Vaughn’s vérité account centers on the historic 1973 auction at Sotheby Parke Bernet of fifty works from the private collection of New York taxi tycoon Robert C. Scull, who had been buying pieces from living artists like John Chamberlain, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol since the 1950s. This was the first auction of contemporary art from a single private collection, coming at a time when movements like Pop and Minimalism were still regularly ridiculed in the press. The unprecedented prices that Scull’s collection would bring—over $2.2 million, or roughly $11 million today, amounts previously reserved for Old Masters—dramatically transformed the market for contemporary art.
Shot and recorded by Alan and Susan Raymond (the filmmakers behind the pioneering documentary series An American Family), America’s Pop Collector portrays Scull’s interactions with dealer Leo Castelli, collector Sam Wagstaff, as well as artists like Rauschenberg and a young Robert Mapplethorpe. Beginning with the intense media scrutiny that preceded the event, the film chronicles the inner workings of the auction house during preparations, Scull’s daily life running his cab company, protests from feminists and labor groups, and the packed auction itself.
The filmmakers’ fly-on-the-wall approach lends an anthropological air to its portrait of the New York art world at a pivotal moment of change; Schott has written that the film was intended as “an experiment in ‘writing art history with a camera.’” After the Scull auction, relations between collectors, dealers, and artists were forever altered. “The Sculls helped artists at a time when there wasn’t enough activity to support them,” Rauschenberg states warmly moments before the sale, but afterwards complains to Scull, “I’ve been working my ass off just for you to make that profit!”
Sober in its analysis yet also tender and searching in relation to its subjects, America's Pop Collector feels prescient when viewed today. More than a mere snapshot, the film allows us to see how contemporary art and its exchange first became theatricalized in the public imagination, and augurs our present situation.
“The film works both topically, as the timely record of an important event mired in its moment, as as history, the useful and fascinating blow-by-blow account of a watershed moment in American art collecting—the moment that worldwide media attention was focused for the first time on the high prices American painting could command. The filmmakers show us the preparations, the drama, the vulgarity, and, most winningly, the elevated sense of excitement that the Sculls, the dealers and the artists felt with regard to the event itself—the auction. It is as sociology that the film continues to work so well.” - Henry Geldzahler
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served.