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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
@twitter.com/KnightLAT

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

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