"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 '60's, New York, 1980, pp. 39-40).
Warhol's Brillo Boxes were first executed in 1964 for the artist's second show at the Stable Gallery. Consisting of numerous replica grocery boxes packed into the gallery space, these novel sculptures caused a sensation by translating, for the first time, Warhol's Pop aesthetic into three dimensions while also transforming the gallery space into something that looked more like a supermarket depot.
Developing the Duchampian notion of the ready-made, Warhol's box sculptures were in fact hand-crafted by carpenters who rebuilt in wood exact replicas of the cardboard originals. These were then painted and their sides finally silkscreened by Warhol and his assistant Gerard Malanga so that they looked exactly like their grocery store counterparts. Warhol deliberately chose to reproduce boxes of only the most strikingly ordinary and recognisable supermarket products: Kellogg's cornflakes, Heinz tomato ketchup, Del Monte peaches, Mott's apple juice, Campbell's tomato juice and, by far the most popular and memorable, Brillo soap pads.
The Brillo box, it has often been observed, is a masterpiece of commercial art design - a feature that Warhol with his sharp eye was quick to recognize. Ironically, its design was created by an Abstract Expressionist painter named James Harvey, who added to the controversy surrounding the Stable Gallery show, by claiming credit for the boxes which were helping the Pop artist Warhol to further his reputation.
It was as radically new forms of sculpture that Warhol's grocery boxes had their greatest influence however, being an important example of how a series of conceptual issues could be conveyed through the simplest of forms. This feature of the Brillo Boxes, along with the way in which Warhol had used them as an installation that transformed the gallery space, rather than as individual pieces of sculpture, held great significance for the development of much contemporary American sculpture in the latter half of the 1960s. Indeed Warhol's semi-mechanically produced refabrication of the ready-made in the form of a simple painted box has often been seen as opening the door to Minimalism and after the Stable Gallery show, it became commonplace for artists to have their work industrially manufactured and to actively withhold as much evidence of handcraft as possible.
Andy Warhol, Paul Morissey, and Viva. Photo by Donald Getsug / Photo Researchers