One man's box, another man's art?

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Filed under: Art Pranks, The History of Pranks

All James Harvey wanted was to make fine art. Thanks to Andy Warhol, he did-anonymously. [Ed: Check out a video interview with Andy Warhol about pop art, surrounded by Brillo boxes at the end of this post]

harvey_375200.jpgShadow Boxer
by James Gaddy
Print Magazine

On April 21, 1964, James Harvey, with his friend Joan Washburn, walked into New York's Stable Gallery to see an opening for a rising artist named Andy Warhol. The show-which attracted a line around the block, despite mostly negative reviews-consisted of 400 large replicas of supermarket product boxes for brands such as Heinz, Del Monte, Mott's, and Kellogg's, stacked around the gallery as if in a stockroom. The ones that attracted the most attention were the 120 containers for Brillo cleaning pads. "Oh my god," Harvey said to Washburn when he saw the Brillo boxes. "I designed those."

At the time, Harvey was known, if at all, as a second-generation abstract expressionist painter who applied his oils so thickly that a 1961 New York Times review described him as "obviously having a love affair with his paint." (Washburn worked at the Graham Gallery, which had hosted several of Harvey's exhibitions.) But his day job was as a commercial artist for the industrial and package designers Stuart and Gunn, creating redesigns for companies like Philip Morris and Bristol-Myers. Three years before, Brillo implemented his drawings for a redesign of the company's packaging.

Like most artists of that time, Harvey made a great distinction between his commercial art and his fine art. Warhol famously recognized these consumer objects as the most elemental creations of our society. By refusing to separate fine art and commerce, Warhol, who had also been a commercial artist during the '50s, turned Harvey's Brillo box into Brillo Box. In the book After the End of Art, the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto asks, "What distinguishes Warhol's Brillo Box from the Brillo boxes in which Brillo comes?" On that day in April, the difference had never been so small. Read the rest of this article here.

Here’s a video interview with Andy Warhol about pop art, surrounded by Brillo boxes:

Via Gothamist