Pop Art Comes to The Huntington
Warhol works are received from the estate of Robert Shapazian
A gift of important works by Andy Warhol, the artist synonymous with the Pop Art movement, has come to The Huntington from the estate of Robert Shapazian, who was the director of Lapis Press, founded by the artist Sam Francis, and was founding director of the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. One of the pieces is Small Crushed Campbell’s Soup Can (Beef Noodle)
, a painting made in 1962 as a unique, early variant of the famous series. Another is Brillo Box
, constructed in 1964 at the time of the artist’s first sculpture exhibition. Rounding out the gift is a group of nine unlicensed copies of Brillo Box commissioned in 1990 by art collector and international museum director Pontus Hultén.
Andy Warhol, Small Crushed Campbell’s Soup Can (Beef Noodle), 1962. 20 x 16 in. Casein and pencil on linen. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift from the estate of Robert Shapazian. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Art /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
“The gift of these pivotal works of American art is transformative,” said Huntington President Steve Koblik. “It makes it possible for us to dramatically strengthen the narrative we have begun in the new American art galleries.”
The Huntington’s collection of American art, established in 1979 with a gift of 50 paintings from the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation, has grown to comprise more than 10,000 objects spanning the colonial period to the mid-20th century. The gallery space for American art at The Huntington recently doubled with a major expansion and reinstallation that opened in 2009.
One of the leading American artists of the 20th century, Warhol (1928–1987) was trained as a commercial artist and began painting in earnest around 1961—at first using the popular iconography of advertisements and comic books in a style that was loosely related to abstract expressionism. But his style changed radically when he adopted Campbell’s Soup cans as his subject.
Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington, points out how the Soup Can paintings are transitional. “They marked a change in Warhol’s work from a style that was personal, and painterly, to one that expressed the bright colors and crisper edges of what came to characterize Pop Art,” she said. “Also, they are painstakingly hand-made—not printed.”
Campbell’s Soup was an icon of stability in the early 1960s, and the can evoked a comfortable familiarity. Yet, Warhol’s Soup Can paintings were intended to provoke anxiety about value. What at first might appear as a crass joke is, at the same time, a sophisticated and serious artistic statement.
The artist’s 1964 Brillo boxes, including the one coming to The Huntington, were made of silkscreened ink and house paint on plywood. In 1990, Pontus Hultén, who had worked closely with Warhol in 1968 on the artist’s first retrospective, commissioned about 100 further versions of the boxes—nine of which have also come to The Huntington. While they were made without the artist’s license, they are included in Warhol’s catalogue raisonné.
Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, 1964. 17 x 17 x 14 in. Silkscreen and house paint on plywood. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift from the estate of Robert Shapazian. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
“The group of Pontus Hultén boxes is fascinating in its own right,” said Smith. “They lie somewhere between a fake and a conceptual art piece on the nature of authenticity—which, of course, was what Warhol was all about.”
Visitors may see the new acquisitions on view now in the Scott Galleries.