We attended an early screening of Brillo Box (3¢ off), directed by Lisanne Skyler at Christie’s Auction House. It will air on HBO on August 7.
Even though its byline is “From the supermarket to the art market, with a stop in one family’s living room”, Brillo Box (3¢ off) is not the goose-chase of a film that one might expect from that marketing material. It’s a far more simpler and serendipitous than that. The story of this family is more interesting as an idea of a type of family in the period, before it’s about the Andy Warhol “Brillo Box” the film is the subject of.
Brief backstory: the “Brillo Boxes” were sculptures that came after the pop-art legend created the Campbell’s soup cans, but far before he was the global legend and auction house favorite. These pieces debuted at a Stable Gallery show in 1964, including a rarer yellow version, where director Lisanne Skyler’s father purchased one for a then-$1,000. They had the piece for sometime before trading it for a Peter Young work.
However, the most remarkable thing about Brillo Box (3¢ off) is the Skyler family’s engagement with a new and bewildering form of art. The film documents a young Skyler surrounded by endlessly-changing collection of unique art, now well-received but at the time surely fringe and complicated and abstract. The director touches on this, noting her grandparents often struggled to understand the absent nature of certain paintings. It’s incredible to think families like this existed- parents compelled to open their minds, children of a new generation that literally grew up on a dynamic and then-unconventional interpretation of art, whether they wanted to or not.
Speaking directly about the Brillo Box owned by the family, the father maintained work in a cycle of investment interest paired with genuine appreciation for works. The mother stepped away from this approach, citing the desire to collect every piece as ideal. These parents bought the Brillo Box because of its cuteness and its artistry as a remark on consumer art, the essence of pop art, according to the mother. The Skylers’ understood the underlying meaning of this work. However, this trade-up versus keep system hit a serious strain and brought the family down. Despite years of memories with the innovative and difficult, it would be many years and Lisanne’s own documentary career that would lead her back to the box, only this time at a high-profile sale at Christie’s auction house, part of the Shapazian sale of 2010.
The documentary is deeply personal and also reveals the most challenging element of the auction world: the uneasy relationship that makes up provenance. The daily implication of the Brillo Box in the context of the Skyler family is vastly different from that of the staid, influential arrangement in the Shapazian residence compared to the private holding now; it’s a disjointed and unpretty scene that can develop, in an otherwise deeply personal film.
Overall, it’s a colorful time captured as a story about family and a little box.