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Robert C. Scull; Businessman Who Aided Young Artists

January 04, 1986|From Times Wire Services

NEW YORK — Robert C. Scull, who used the wealth of his taxi fleet to collect contemporary art and encourage young artists, has died at his home in Warren, Conn., it was learned Friday.

He was 70 when he died Wednesday. He had been suffering from diabetes.

Scull and his first wife, Ethel, were at the center of feverish and controversial art collecting in Manhattan in the 1960s. He was prominent in fashion and gossip columns, where he sometimes was referred to as "the pop of Pop Art" and "the Medici of the Minimalists."

In 1975, a film--"America's Pop Collector: Robert C. Scull--Contemporary Art at Auction"--was made about his collecting fervor. It dwelt especially on a then-record-breaking auction in 1973 at which the sale of some of the works in Scull's collection brought $2.2 million.

Critic's View

William Wilson, the Los Angeles Times art critic, saw the film--which satirized the artists and collectors at the auction--as a "travelogue to that ring of the inferno reserved for luxurious corruption."

Scull was born to Russian immigrant parents in New York City and dropped out of high school during the Depression, but took art courses and worked as an illustrator and industrial designer. The family was poor but Scull's grandfather took him regularly to museums, piquing the young Scull's interest in paintings.

A share of a taxi business he inherited from his father-in-law in the late 1940s became the Super Operating Corp., a fleet of 130 cabs and 400 drivers known as Scull's Angels.

The Sculls began collecting works of such artists as Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, then sold a dozen of them in 1965 and used the proceeds to set up a foundation to encourage young artists.

Favored Famed Artists

They also bought up works of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauchenberg, Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist but sold them at the 1973 auction.

Scull and his wife divorced in 1975, and he later sold the taxi business and moved to Connecticut. In 1978, he set up the Robert C. Scull Foundation to support young artists and contemporary art institutions.

He is survived by his second wife, Stephanie, and three sons.

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