SAN MARINO, CA.-
A gift of important works by Andy Warhol will come to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
from the estate of Los Angeles gallery director Robert Shapazian, who died earlier this year. One of the pieces is Small Crushed Campbells 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 artists first sculpture exhibition; and 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 Hulten (19242006). The works will come to The Huntington later this fall.
Robert was absolutely brilliant and extremely generous, said Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington. His gift is of great significance to us on many levels.
Shapazian, a respected scholar and founding director of Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, was introduced to The Huntington through the Sam Francis Foundation, which donated Francis monumental painting Free Floating Clouds to The Huntingtons collections in 2009. Shapazian also was the director of Lapis Press in Venice, Calif., founded by Francis to publish limited editions of artists books.
The Shapazian gift of these pivotal works of American art is transformative, said Steven S. Koblik, president of The Huntington. It makes it possible for us to dramatically strengthen the narrative we have begun in the new American art galleries.
The Huntingtons 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.
John Murdoch, the Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Art Collections at The Huntington, said, I think Robert appreciated what is distinctive about The Huntington. He was very impressed with our new American galleries, and with the way in which they, together with our library and our gardens, seemed to make a context in which the surprise and delight of Warhols creativity could be recaptured.
Soup Cans and the Birth of Pop Art
One of the leading American artists of the 20th century, Andy Warhol (19281987) was a painter, printer, and filmmaker whose name has become synonymous with the Pop Art movement that began in the 1960s. He was trained as a commercial artist and began painting in earnest around 1961at first using the popular iconography of advertisements and comic books in a style that was loosely related to the gestural painting of the abstract expressionists, with splashes and drips. But his style changed radically when he adopted Campbell Soup cans as his subject.
Smith points out how the Soup Can paintings are transitional. They marked a change in Warhols work from a style that was crude, 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-madenot printedand of a relatively small scale.
Campbells Soup was an icon of stability in the early 1960sthe label design had not changed in more than 50 years, and the price of a can had remained the same for almost 40 years. The can evoked a comfortable familiarity and represented a common denominator of experience across every age and class in the country. Yet, Warhols Soup Can paintings 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.
Painted early in 1962, Small Crushed Campbells Soup Can (Beef Noodle), is a rare black-background variant of the famous series of 32 paintings that debuted at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles that yearan exhibition that is associated with the birth of the Pop Art movement.
At The Huntington, it will be installed in a room in the American art galleries devoted to works made after World War II, which is anchored by Free Floating Clouds and includes works by Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and California artists such as Ed Ruscha and Karl Benjamin.
Warhols first sculpture exhibition was in the spring of 1964 at the Stable Gallery in New York, featuring several series of box constructions, including Del Monte Peach Halves, Mott's Apple Juice, Kellogg's Cornflakes, and Brillo.
Warhols 1964 Brillo boxes, including the one coming to The Huntington, were made of silkscreened ink and house paint on plywood and measure 17 by 17 by 14 inches. In 1990, Pontus Hulten, who had worked closely with Warhol in 1968 on the artists first retrospective, commissioned about 100 further versions of the boxesnine of which have come to The Huntington. While they were made without the artists license, they are included in Warhols catalogue raisonné. They differ from the original 1964 boxes only slightly, most obviously in size (they are 17 ½ by 14 ¼ by 17 ¼ inches).
The group of Pontus Hulten boxes is fascinating in its own right, said Smith. They lie somewhere between a fake and a conceptual art piece on the nature of authenticitywhich, of course, was what Warhol was all about.