Thirty years after Andy Warhol’s passing, HBO has released a new documentary by Lisanne Skyler, “Brillo Box 3¢ off”, that traces the journey of Warhol’s iconic Brillo Box from its modest beginnings as an art collector’s coffee table to its $3.3 million sale four decades later.
The documentary begins with Skyler’s parents, who purchased a Brillo Box in 1969 for $1,000. Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box was a plywood cube that replicated the original supermarket cartons that Brillo steel wool pads came packaged in. They were featured in a 1964 exhibition at Sable Gallery, with around a hundred of these Brillo Boxes stacked and arranged like a supermarket display.
In the case of Skyler’s parents, they acquired a rare Brillo Box, one where the Brillo logo was screenprinted on a vivid yellow background instead of the usual white. While they were savvy enough to get Warhol to sign the box (and to also protect it in plexi casing), it served as their coffee table for two years before they traded it for another piece of art. One of the highlights of the film is a photograph an infant Skyler perched on the Brillo Box, blissfully unaware of its eventual record breaking sale forty years later. Along the way, it had been owned by Charles Saatchi and Gagosian Gallery founding director, Robert Shapazian.
The documentary is personal while still informative — it balances recollections from Skyler’s childhood with valuable insights from Warhol Musuem director Eric Shiner, Warhol documentary producer Daniel Wolf, art critic Irving Sandler, among others. It sheds light on a stunning rise of the Warhol market, while still being light-hearted, incorporating interviews with Skyler’s family, who could best the described as cavalier about the one that got away.