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A Warhol 'Brillo Box' for the Huntington -- and some 'Hulten Brillo Boxes' too [UPDATED]

October 7, 2010 |  6:00 am

Brillo © 2005 Andy Warhol credit PBS In addition to the bequest of Andy Warhol's "Small Crushed Campbell’s Soup Can (Beef Noodle)," a unique painting made in 1962 as a variation on the famous series of soup cans first shown that year at L.A.'s Ferus Gallery, the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens has also received a 1964 Warhol "Brillo Box." Both are from the estate of Robert Shapazian, a former Los Angeles gallery director who died this summer. Any museum would be happy to have them.

And then there are the Hulten "Brillo Boxes" -- nine of them to be exact. Also in the Huntington bequest is a group of nine pseudo-boxes that, when news of their existence was revealed last year, set the art world on its ear.

Made surreptitiously for a 1990 show at the direction of Pontus Hulten, a widely respected European museum director (and also the founding director of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art), these were among 100 Brillo boxes that had never been seen or approved by Warhol.

In fact, the artist had died three years before their fabrication. Yet they had been slipping into the art market as authentic Warhol works, causing considerable consternation.

The Huntington is being forthright about the Hulten-Warhol-pseudo-boxes' background, which means Shapazian also knew their provenance. The news release announcing the gift says:
In 1990, Pontus Hulten, who had worked closely with Warhol in 1968 on the artist's first retrospective, commissioned about 100 further versions of the boxes -- nine of which have come to The Huntington. While they were made without the artist's license, they are included in Warhol's catalogue raisonné. They differ from the original 1964 boxes only slightly, most obviously in size (they are 17½ by 14¼  by 17¼ inches).

The long and tangled tale of their origin, including speculation about why Hulten "made his own Warhols" (the museum director died in 2006, before news of their existence broke), raises many fascinating questions about art, authenticity, the market and the responsibility for transparency from museums. A number of interesting, detailed stories have been written about the odd affair, including one in Art News magazine and one in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

UPDATE 2:02 pm: The Andy Warhol Foundation has made available the results of a lengthy inquiry by the Warhol Art Authentication Board into the history of the various Brillo boxes, finished in mid-July. There's a short summary Download Brillo Statement, plus the full 27-page report Download Stockholm Brillo. Interesting reading for Warhol enthusiasts.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Andy Warhol, "Brillo Box," 1964; Credit: © 2005 Andy Warhol PBS

Comments () | Archives (3)

Oh, my! How horrible! the investment partiers of contempt entertainers might lsoe some of teir value! Horror!
I think recycling might be in order, and make more of an artistic statement than leaving these fire hazards around the museums.

Save the spiritual Watts/Rodia Towers, Nuestro Pueblo. Tear down the decadent storage facilities of academic psychobabble.

This so called authentication board is chaired by former los angeles city councilman Joel Wachs. What his qualifications or those of any of the other board members is a mystery. They never admit mistakes, never debate their decision with 'scholars', and have been involved in more scandals that any other art institution. They are able to get away with this by using gangster tactics, and spending tens of millions of charitable dollars on legal fees. This is not scholarship but big business. Several of these posthumous boxes are owned by directors and trustees of the warhol foundation, which is perhaps the reason why they were so readily authenticated despite the protests of Warhol's closest colleagues who were present and having no previous history. Transparency and open debate has always been the bedrock of art scholarship, something the Joel Wachs and his mysterious 'historians' have failed to grasp. Its a sad time for the art of andy warhol.

with all of the scandals swirling around the andy warhol art authentication board, perhaps they should re think their policy of secrecy. Surely this cannot be art scholarship.
All other authentication board are open to debate and have a transparent process.



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