Monday, March 31, 2014

Observations on Art 3.31

"Art is anything you can get away with" is a quote widely attributed to Andy Warhol that says all you need to know about his theory of art. I say the quote is attributed to Warhol because, while I'm sure he said it and just as sure he lived it, the quote is actually by a Canadian media philosopher, Marshall McLuhan.

It doesn't really matter who said it because the quote isn't the topic of this post. It just makes a perfect opening for a Warhol story I heard last week that I hadn't heard in some time.

On April 21, 1964 Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery* held one of the first major exhibitions of Andy Warhol's work. The Stable exhibition was the first time the world saw Warhol's Brillo Boxes. Among those attending the show was James Harvey who had originally designed the box for the Brillo Manufacturing Company. Harvey and a friend had wandered into the Stable to see a show by a than still minor artist, Warhol. Upon seeing the stack of  boxes Harvey supposedly said to his friend "oh my god, I designed those."

Art critic Arthur Danto once asked, "What distinguishes Warhol’s Brillo Box from the Brillo boxes in which Brillo comes?" That's literally a million dollar question because on that day in 1964 Warhol's Brillo boxes were selling for hundreds of dollars and have since sold at auction for as much $5 million. For all practical purposes Harvey's Brillo boxes were worthless.

James Harvey died of cancer less than a year after the Stable Gallery show. One of the only remaining examples of Harvey's Brillo box is owned by Art Historian Irving Sandler. He keeps the box, an autographed gift from Harvey, in a case in his apartment not far from what was once the site of the Stable Gallery.

* trivia, the Stable Gallery was so named because it was originally housed in an unused livery stable on West 58th Street in New York.

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