A bubbly and infectious appreciation of 1960s pop art, particularly the silkscreen fabrications of its most famous purveyor, Andy Warhol, Brillo Box (3 Cents Off) tells an affectionate tale, tracing the journey of its titular work of art. Director Lisanne Skyler explains how her parents, primarily her art collector father, first acquired an original Warhol Brillo Box sculpture for $1,000. The box became an integral part of their family dynamic, encased in protective plexiglas as it was and placed, front and center, in their New York City living room, serving as a makeshift coffee table. Her father later traded it for another piece of art, produced by the less well known and colorfully dotty artist Peter Young. It would change hands—and show up on the auction block at Christie’s—multiple times before fetching in excess of $3 million in 2010.
Warhol, a man more comfortable with images than with words, claimed that “repurposing,” as he did to such striking effect with everyday consumer products by Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, Mott’s, Heinz, and Del Monte, was simply “easier” than creating something new. He and his ‘Factory workers produced 93 white Brillo Box sculptures and only 17 yellow ones with the distinctive “3c OFF” lettering, plywood-constructed boxes with commercial artist James Harvey’s original red and blue Brillo design screen-printed onto them.
When patriarch Skyler bought his 3c off original from Brooklyn art dealer Ivan Karp in 1969 he wanted proof of provenance, so Warhol, typically not one to sign or number his works, scratched his name in red crayon on the underside. This rare signature, along with the pristine, plastic-preserved condition of the piece, contributed to its collectibility some forty years after Warhol’s star first faded, then rose again.
At once playful and instructive, the HBO Documentary short Brillo Box (3 Cents Off) lovingly blends its director’s personal story with an evocation of popular culture that examines the fleeting nature of fame and the controversial divide between Art and cartons of soap-impregnated steel wool scouring pads.
(c) 2016 David N. Butterworth