Marketing and publicity moved to the center.
Many of the artists in the sale, such as Warhol or
, were already well-known, according to Haskell, laying the groundwork for Scull’s high-intensity marketing. “The public had already embraced Pop Art,” said Haskell. “It was accessible and something everyone knew about, so the sale built on that momentum.”
But Scull had a few tricks up his sleeve. He was already known as a brilliant publicist with respect to his taxi business, famously hiring etiquette expert Amy Vanderbilt to teach his cab drivers manners in a lesson held at the Waldorf Astoria, an event covered, naturally, by a group of invited reporters. Ethel Scull entered the auction in a long black Halston gown with the taxi fleet’s logo—“Scull’s Angels”—on her chest. Angry protesters outside supplied tension and drama. A lavish catalogue, hardbound and featuring multiple fold-out pages illustrating the works, was a rare investment for living artists. And Rauschenberg, possibly drunk, confronted Scull about his supposed profiteering (more below) from artists’ works.
CBS news reported on the auction, and a documentary film crew was in tow. In the film, America’s Pop Collector: Robert C. Scull—Contemporary Art at Auction
, art historian Baruch Kirschenbaum writes
, “The auction is seen not simply as self-contained historical occurrence, but as a media event.”
“Between the catalogue, the media campaign, the parties—I think Scull was really a master of” generating publicity, said Woodham. While auction houses previously may have turned up the publicity every now and then for an
sale of some exclusive pieces from a duke or duchess, the Scull sale “absolutely set a new standard for post-war and contemporary.”
And that was largely thanks to Scull himself, although the art world quickly absorbed the lesson.
“The guy knew how to create a marketing machine to support his business, and to promote their own personal brand, if you will,” says Woodham. “And the art world saw the Scull auction and said, ‘This is how to do it.’”