NEW YORK—Two and a half years after first notifying owners of certain Andy Warhol Brillo Box sculptures that it was undertaking a thorough investigation of their works, the New York–based Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board has admitted it was misled by a prominent museum director who falsified the history of the works and the circumstances under which they were created.
Now, dozens of collectors and institutions who own these pieces are wondering how the new evidence will affect the classification and market value of works they own, and in some cases paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for.
One of the boxes in question was sold for $208,695 at Christie’s London in February 2006, where it was dated to 1968 in the auction catalogue. Major auction houses typically only accept Warhol works that have been authenticated by the Warhol board. Asked how the new classification of these works will affect its policy in the future, Christie’s spokesperson Toby Usnik told ARTnewsletter the house is “reviewing everything in light of our limited warranty.”
In late 2007, after a series of articles was published in the Swedish newspaper Expressen alleging that more than 100 Brillo boxes were manufactured in Sweden in 1990—three years after Warhol’s death—the Warhol authentication board sent letters to the owners of the works with a preliminary report of its findings.
According to a statement from the board issued last July, “over the past two years, as the Board has continued and intensified its investigation, it has re-examined Brillo box sculptures, contacted and interviewed the people directly or indirectly involved with the production of the boxes and those privy to the history of the boxes,” and studied the personal papers of Pontus Hultén, the former director of the Moderna Museet, Stockholm and Malmö, who died in 2006 and at whose direction two sets of later sculptures were created. The board has also reviewed records at the Moderna Museet and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
On the basis of its research, the board concluded that Hultén had produced two different groups of Brillo Soap Pad Boxes. The first was made during the spring or summer of 1968, after Warhol had an exhibition at the Moderna Museet, and consisted of a total of approximately 10 to 15 boxes. These have now been designated by the board as “Stockholm-type” boxes. The second set was produced in 1990 for an exhibition, “Le Territoire de l’Art,” organized by Hultén for the State Russian Museum, Leningrad, and consisted of about 105 boxes. These have now been designated “Malmö type” boxes, a reference to the city in which they were manufactured. The report details the difference in the facture of the two sets of boxes and distinguishes them from the original Brillo Soap Pads Box sculptures Warhol made for his 1964 Stable Gallery exhibition in New York. According to the report, “Hultén did not identify the Malmö type boxes as replicas that were produced in 1990, nor did he inform the Estate of Andy Warhol that he was producing them.”
A source familiar with Hultén’s fabrication of the Brillo boxes in 1990, who did not want to be identified, told ARTnewsletter that those boxes were made at the Malmö Konsthall, and that Hultén enlisted the help of his friend Björn Springfeldt, who was then its director (Springfeldt later became director of the Moderna Museet). According to the source, “Springfeldt got some highly skilled guys to help Hultén, who sent one of the few remaining cardboard original Brillo manufacturing boxes that Moderna bought from Brillo Inc. in Brooklyn for the 1968 exhibition.” Springfeldt did not return calls for comment.
In 1994 Hultén began selling the boxes and several were presented to the Estate of Andy Warhol for authentication (the authentication board was formed in 1995). He claimed in statements to the estate and to the Board that “all the boxes were made in 1968 ‘according to Andy Warhol’s instructions’” and were done in conjunction with the Moderna Museet exhibition there. In so doing, Hultén “misrepresented the works and falsified their history” to the estate, the board and the Warhol catalogue raisonné, according to the board’s report.
The 2004 Warhol catalogue raisonné, which lists 94 authenticated Stockholm-type boxes, indicates that they were quickly and widely dispersed into the art market after Hultén represented them as having been manufactured in 1968. “The wood boxes have been catalogued as they have been examined and identified since 1995,” the catalogue says. “Although there are slight discrepancies among individual examples, the Stockholm Boxes may be said to constitute a uniform edition.”
Among those listed as owners of boxes examined in 1995 are Lord Palumbo, the British collector who served on the board of directors and officers of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York from 1995 to 1997, and the San Francisco collectors Vicki and Kent Logan. Their box is described as a “fractional and promised gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.”
The authentication board states in its recent report that “no written documentation has been found that would establish that Warhol authorized the Moderna Museet to produce a set of Brillo Soap Pads boxes in 1968. Given the friendship between Warhol and Hultén, it is possible that a verbal agreement existed between the two. The Authentication Board, however, can neither verify nor invalidate Hultén’s claim.”
The report continues, “The Stockholm type boxes are related to the 1968 Warhol exhibition at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Board will designate the Stockholm type boxes hereafter as ‘exhibition related copies’. … the Board will designate the Malmö type boxes hereafter as ‘exhibition copies’.” The Board also recommended that the information in the report be included in the Andy Warhol catalogue raisonné.