In 1962, Andy Warhol began exploring the idea of creating a three-dimensional version of his serial paintings of Campbell’s soup cans. At around the same time, Warhol’s friend and photographer Edward Wallowitch took photographs for Warhol of supermarket boxes stacked on top of each other as part of the preparations for another sculpture that was ultimately never produced. Eighteen months later, Warhol had still not acted on his aspirations to create sculptures, but his desire was reignited after Dwan Gallery’s John Weber paid a visit to the artist’s studio and expressed great interest in Warhol starting a three-dimensional series, specifically one of wooden box sculptures. It was through this encouragement that Warhol finally started work on creating Brillo Soap Pads Box, a series that would forever alter the trajectory of art and its criticism.
By expanding his work into the sculptural realm with Brillo Soap Pads Box, Warhol successfully created art that went one step further than his previous two-dimensional work, such as Campbell’s soup cans. While the two-dimensional soup prints acted as representations of the kitchen staple, Brillo Soap Pads Box were not a representation, but rather an exact replica. As a result, Warhol’s Brillo Soap Pads Box questioned the role of popular culture and consumerism in fine art, while also further blurring the lines between art and reality. Later that same year, Arthur C. Danto dedicated a chapter of his essay for Art Forum to the time-honored question, ‘What is Art?’ and how Brillo Soap Pads Box in particular further complicated the answer to that question: “How is it possible for something to be a work of art when something else, which resembles it to whatever degree of exactitude, is merely a thing, or an artifact, but not an artwork? Why is Brillo Box art when the Brillo cartons in the warehouse are merely soap-pad containers?” (A.C. Danto, Artforum, September 1993). Danto’s question perfectly exemplifies the way in which Warhol’s decision to reproduce boxes with strikingly ordinary and recognizable imagery forever changed the way we value and define art. While some may view Warhol’s decision to recreate mundane, commonplace, mass-produced items and place them in a gallery setting as his way of poking fun at the art market, Warhol actually never intended it as an offense. On the contrary, Warhol was bravely choosing to celebrate, not ridicule, the commercial nature of the art market, something he greatly revered.