Once you "got" Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again. The moment you label something, you take a step-I mean, you can never go back again to seeing it unlabeled. We were seeing the future and we knew it for sure. We saw people walking around in it without knowing it, because they were still thinking in the past, in the reference of the past. But all you had to do was know you were in the future, and that's what put you there. The mystery was gone, but the amazement was just starting
(Andy Warhol quoted in P. Hackett, POPism: The Warhol '60s, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, pp. 39-40).
Warhol's second solo show at the Stable Gallery in 1964, in which the artist exhibited the first set of his Brillo Soap Pads, caused quite a splash in the art world. The show must have been a tremendous sight-Warhol had stacked the boxes and filled the gallery from floor to ceiling, creating an environment much more reminiscent of a vibrant supermarket than a somber gallery. In fact, Warhol had envisioned hoards of gallery-goers would each walk out with a box in their arms, though the scenario did not pan out, to the artist's disappointment.
The responses to the exhibition were widely varied from excitement, outrage to indifference. In Artforum, Donald Factor wrote that the work "demand re-identification and re-evaluation as they assume, in the purity of their projective impact, a kind of perfect cultural abstraction" (D. Factor, "The big show, sixty-one works by thirty-nine artists", Artforum, April 1964, p. 23). On the other hand, Stuart Preston flatly remarked, "He has destroyed Art with a capital A" (S. Preston, "Old and New Ways of Seeing Things," New York Times, April 26, 1964, p. 21). What was definite, however, after the exhibition was that the concept of art had forever been altered-a hollow plywood box construction with silkscreened logos to exactly imitate a store-bought product could be considered to be a work of art. Thus Warhol's Brillo Soap Pads follows the trajectory of his Campbell Soup Can series in questioning the relationship between art and objects, and art and reality.
The present work is an example of the Pasadena type, which was specifically created for Warhol's retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1970. The dimensions are about three inches larger than the earlier types, though the original design was replicated using the screen printing process. In addition, the white ground was printed rather than hand-painted, which enhances the pristine, manufactured aesthetic of the box.
Warhol's Brillo Soap Pad well reflects the emerging American consumer culture of the 1960s and the growing power of brand recongnition. Furthermore, it challenges the notion of originality through the use of appropriation and seriality.