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Artnet News
Oct. 19, 2010

It’s one of the most famous arguments in all of art theory: Arthur Danto’s claim that Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box sculptures represent the "end of art," because they don’t have any distinguishing features -- it’s just art because the artist says it is. Well, the Andy Warhol Authentication Board begs to differ. In a 27-page encyclical (available for perusal courtesy the L.A. TimesChristopher Knight), the board rules that a slew of more than 100 boxes are of dubious authenticity, essentially fabrications by free-wheeling Swedish curator and sometime Warhol collaborator Pontus Hulten (1924-2006). The board also lays out precise formal guidelines designed to separate the real Brillos from the clones.

In essence, the tortuous saga of the art fakes boils down to this: For a 1968 show at Sweden’s Moderna Museet, rather than include the Brillo Box sculptures from Warhol’s 1964 Stable Gallery show, Hulten had some 500 actual cardboard Brillo cartons shipped from the Brooklyn-based Brillo Factory to represent the sculptural side of the artist’s works. Later in 1968, Hulten had "ten to fifteen" new boxes fabricated in wood, based on the design of the cardboard containers, which he then gave away as "souvenirs" to collaborators, or kept for his own use. He even used two as "bedside tables for his children." Much later, in 1990, Hulten had some 105 new boxes produced as "sceneography" for a show he was curating in Leningrad, based on his own 1968 replicas. These were then identified as 1964 originals when the show travelled.

This misattribution, combined with later assertions by Hulten that the works were produced in 1968 under Andy’s supervision, has led to an enduring confusion for Warhol collectors, even snookering the Estate of the artist itself, which certified the Swedish boxes as the real thing in 1994. It’s a confusion that the Warhol board is now endeavoring to put to rest with this heavily footnoted report, which even quotes Hulten’s own Marcel Duchamp-inspired musings to prove that he had little respect for concepts of originality.

So, where does that leave the question of the ontology of the fake Brillo Boxes? The Warhol Board doesn’t quite say. It stops short of calling the Swedish Brillos outright fakes. Instead, their new official designation is "exhibition copies." And the matter does, it seem, all come back to the intention of the artist himself. The report notes that other Brillo Boxes were authorized remotely by Warhol for museum shows, though in those cases documents exist to verify his intention. No such documentation exists in the Swedish case -- but Hulten always claimed that he was working with the consent of the artist, and the board concedes that "[g]iven the friendship between Warhol and Hulten, it is possible that a verbal agreement existed between the two" to create the disputed works, which would make them, more or less, originals.

Since the board’s has been embroiled in at least one long-running lawsuit over its authentication procedures, its hesitation to be definitive seems understandable.

Gagosian Gallery represents the Giacometti Foundation, but the late artist’s Swiss family has turned to New York private dealers Eykyn Maclean for an unusual public exhibition of nearly 100 works by Alberto Giacometti. "In Giacometti’s Studio -- An Intimate Portrait," Oct. 28-Dec. 18, 2010, presents sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs and documents dating from 1917 to 1965. Among the highlights are a monumental 1954 bronze Grande tête/Tête mince which, at over two feet tall, is the largest of Giacometti’s busts from the period, as well as a ballpoint pen portrait of Vincent van Gogh done on a page of John Rewald’s 1961 book Post-Impressionism, opposite the page with an illustration of the Dutch artist’s self-portrait.

Officially a "not-for-sale exhibition," the show is organized by Giacometti expert Michael Peppiatt, and is accompanied by Peppiat’s new book, In Giacometti’s Studio (Yale, $65). The gallery has also published an illustrated catalogue of the show, including a dialogue between Peppiatt and 83-year-old poet and Giacometti friend Jacques Dupin. Eykyn Maclean was established in 2006 by Christopher Eykyn and Nicholas Maclean, former experts in Impressionism and modern art at Christie’s; it is located at 23 East 67th Street, on the second floor.

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