silkscreen ink and house paint on plywood, wrapped in original plastic
43.2 x 43.2 x 35.6 cm (17 x 17 x 14 in)
£600,000 - 800,000
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Provenance Leo Castelli Gallery, New York Private Collection Christie's New York, Post War and Contemporary Art Morning Session, 16 November 2006, lot 133 Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Exhibited Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles H. Carpenter, Jr.: The Odyssey of a Collector, 23 March– 9 June 1996, travelled to New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (16 January–9 March 1997) Ridgefield, The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, The Charles H. Carpenter, Jr. Collection: Fifty Years of Supporting the New, 22 September – 31 December 2002
Literature I. Sandler, American Art of the 1960s, New York, 1988, no. 40 (illustrated) Charles H. Carpenter, Jr.: The Odyssey of a Collector, exh. cat., Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 1996, p. 79 (illustrated) G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné; Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, vol. 02A, New York, 2004, p.73 no. 631; p.75, fig.27 (illustrated)
“I like things to be exactly the same over and over again.” Andy Warhol
“A truckload of wood boxes arrived, individually wrapped and taped in clear plastic sheeting. And so would begin the arduous task of taping the floor with rolls of brown paper and setting out each box in a grid-like pattern of eight rows lengthwise … Completing the work took nearly six weeks, from early February well into mid-April.” (Gerard Malanga, Warhol’s studio assistant, in Archiving Warhol: Writings and Photographs by Gerard Malanga, 2002 (GMW147-8))
Andy Warhol’s Brillo Soap Pad Boxes were exhibited for the first time on 26 April 1964 at the Stable Gallery in New York as part of the artist’s inaugural sculptural project. The gallery space was filled from top to bottom with replicas of commonplace supermarket packaging: cans of Del Monte peach halves, Campbell tomato juice, Mott’s apple juice, Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Heinz tomato ketchup and Brillo Soap Pads boxes. The idea for the Stable Gallery show was sparked when Warhol asked his assistant Nathan Gluck to bring him cartons from the nearby grocery store. Gluck returned with some artfully-designed boxes that had contained exotic fruit. “No, no, no!”, Warhol complained, “I wanted something more ordinary.” (A. Chasin, All other things being equal: studies in U.S.-American material culture, Stanford University Press, p. 91.) Warhol then delegated another assistant to the task, who returned with the most basic examples of supermarket packaging he could find. Warhol ordered precise copies of the originals to be made in the form of plywood boxes which were then screenprinted with imitation lettering and logos. The entire Stable Gallery was then filled with these boxes, recreating the disarray of a supermarket stockroom. As the original invoice from the box carpenter shows, it can be supposed that Warhol produced one hundred Brillo Soap Pads boxes for the Stable Gallery show.
The present Brillo Soap Pad Box appears to be straight from the stockroom, still in its original plastic wrapping. A notation in the inventory of the Leo Castelli Gallery identifies the Brillo box photograph by Rudolph Burckhardt (for the publication accompanying the exhibition The Odyssey of a Collector at the Whitney Museum of Art) with LC 179, the same inventory number as the current lot. From this fact we can assume that the most-reproduced photograph of a Brillo Soap Pad Box is in fact an image of this present lot.
Warhol’s work in the early 1960s consciously destabilised the distinct domains of high culture and commercial art, but the Brillo Soap Pad boxes went a step further. They were precise copies of the actual object in shape and colour. The art critic Sidney Tillim reviewed the exhibition in Art Magazine with the following comment: “The visual emptiness of it all is the price he seems to pay for an instant of sublime but compulsive negation” (in E. E. Dennis, R. W. Snyder, eds., Media & Public Life, New Brunswick, NJ, 1997, p. 61). This “visual emptiness” was precisely Warhol’s goal: to portray the extreme superficiality of the prosperous society in which he lived and worked.
The boxes emerged from an exciting time in Warhol’s life, just after he had moved to his new studio on 231 East 47th Street, New York, in 1963. The production setting for the Brillo Soap Pad boxes coined the name for this studio: the Factory. Warhol was no longer just an artist, he was a businessman. This statement on the structures and techniques of art production has ensured Warhol’s place as a figure of central importance in art since then.