Brillo Box (3¢ Off) Director on the Family Box and the Changing Market

At a New York screening of Brillo Box (3¢ Off), held at Christie's, filmmaker Lisanne Skyler shared how an innocuous box defined one of the 20th century’s most famed artists and the life of a young Manhattan family.

The documentary short, which Skyler wrote and directed, tells the story of her family’s purchase of a Brillo Box sculpture by Andy Warhol for $1,000. Like much of Warhol’s “pop art,” opinions of the work varied among collectors and enthusiasts. Despite wavering public sentiment, Warhol’s work appreciated considerably and in 2010, the box sold for over $3 million dollars, which is where the doc begins.

After the screening, Skyler sat down with Laura Paulson, chairman, Americas at Christie’s. The two made the following observations:

For the director, it’s more than a box:
“It’s a film about a Brillo Box, but I also tried to tell a story about the ups and downs of life we all go through, and how we come to terms with that,” explained Skyler. “Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of verbalizing about what the paintings on the wall were about, but they stayed with me in a very primal way. That definitely drove the conception of this film.”

The art market has changed in the ensuing years:
Said Paulson, “What I love about the film is that it underscores what was so rich in the art world at the time -- the value of relationships. The relationship of a collector to a gallery. The sense of loyalty. The relationship to art and artist from back then is very hard to do today.” The market works differently now, explained the specialist. “We’ve become very globalized. We have collectors from emerging markets that didn’t exist 10 years ago. There’s a lot more pressure on art dealers.”

There’s more to Warhol’s art than meets the eye:
Is Warhol’s Brillo Box art, or was it just a joke? According to Skyler, maybe it’s both. “There’s so much meaning in his work, in the way he took familiar images and objects out of their original context, and put them in a completely different place.”

“If you asked him, he’d probably respond ‘of course, it’s just a joke,’ ” she theorized. “But that was part of how he presented himself to the art world. And I think that’s why it took us a while to catch on and see he wasn’t just playing a joke on us, his art was more profound than that.”