HBO Documentary Films: BRILLO BOX 3¢ OFF

Doc-logo2Overview: In 1969, Lisanne Skyler’s parents bought an Andy Warhol “Brillo Box (3¢ Off)” sculpture for $1,000. An exact replica of a shipping carton for Brillo soap pads, Warhol’s Brillo Boxes were at first dismissed by the art world. But 40 years later, with Warhol’s reputation as a contemporary-art visionary long secured, the same piece sold for more than $3 million at a record-breaking Christie’s auction.

Docs_BrilloPads-300x237Blending a humorous family narrative with Pop Art history, and debuting the week of Warhol’s 89th birthday, this documentary makes its way from a New York family’s living room to the contemporary global art market, exploring the ephemeral nature of art and value, and the decisions that shape a family’s history.   


Expectations: I see that this film clocks in at 41 minutes. So that means if we are going to cover the significance of this Warhol piece and how it impacted a family I guess we better get a move on. In that amount of time, we must not be getting a history lesson on the Pop Art movement, which might not be such a bad thing if a viewer isn’t into that style. But we can’t shy away from the object in question – the Brillo Box sculpture. We begin with the trailer.  


Gut Reaction: Well, with that overview & trailer we have the whole story already, don’t we? Okay, there is a bit more to it than that. We actually get a cursory glance at three topics contained within, First, is the family story of how Mom & Dad, the art collectors, went about collecting and focused, for a while, on the ‘Brillo Box.” The filmmaker, Lisanne, since infancy grew up with the piece until, at one point, it was gone. Just what happened to it and why it was in the living room at all is all explained.

The second story is the crash course on the controversial work and the rise of Pop Art. Though the creativity of seems to be saved for another day we do get a concise and nice explanation of Docs_BrilloBaby-222x300his line of consumer product packaging as art. Hey, you either accept it as such or you don’t. The third story here is a brief peek into the art market. Most of us don’t see that world so a look at art auction was interesting. Of course, we are privy all the buying and selling and continent hopping of the beloved family “Brillo Box” once it was out of the family.

The main point of this documentary, for me, was not equal to Lisanne Skyler’s purpose. Her focus was the signed sculpture and its impact on her family. In order to tell that story a bit of background was provided. For me, the focus was not on the specific piece, as it could have been interchanged with any work of art, but of the lifestyle of collectors and the world market they play in. The filmmaker exposed me to it as it is a lifestyle she grew up in and we learn by film’s end she is a part of in her adult life.


Bonus: As a continued look into that life here is a portion of HBO’s interview with Lisanne Skyler (pictured below)

HBO: What connection did you have to the Brillo Box? Why pursue a story like this?


Lisanne Skyler: For many of us, our memories of our childhood are derived from photographs. That picture of me when I was a baby, draped over our Brillo Box, shaped my memories. When I looked back at that photo in the family album, it amazed me that we once owned a Warhol. It prompted questions about how we purchased it and where it went. While I don’t remember the box, I remember spending rainy Saturday afternoons sitting on some couch in a gallery while my parents were talking to art dealers. I can recall looking at the art and wondering why it interested my parents and wanting to know more.

HBO: What was it like working with your parents on the film?


Lisanne Skyler: It definitely brought us closer together… They took a lot of ownership in explaining the Brillo Box purchase and the unique way they raised their kids. They’re not active collectors anymore, which makes Brillo Box more poignant for me. Filming their story helped me preserve their passion for art.


HBO: What do you hope viewers take away from your film?

Lisanne Skyler: I hope people consider the role of art in American culture. Sometimes, people don’t go to museums because they fear they won’t “get it,” so I hope Brillo Box makes the art scene more accessible. Experiencing art, whether that’s at a museum, a gallery, or a visit to an artist friend, is an experience that connects us to our culture and to each other.


I also hope it will encourage creative people to keep creating, regardless of the immediate response to their work. Time is the greatest teller of value, the best indicator of what’s important. It’s about persisting. Warhol never stopped. He kept making. He had the ability to tune out criticism when he needed to create.


HBO: Do you know where the box is now?


Lisanne Skyler: Oh, we’d all like to know! Coincidentally, we found out the box was going to sell again the day we decided to move forward with HBO. We were wondering if it would sell for $5 million, maybe $10 million! It ended up selling for over a million dollars less.


In Conclusion: Though I am not wild for Pop Art I am appreciative of BRILLO BOX 3¢ OFF. It was a nice change of pace to watch a film on this topic and good to mull over art and its value to us over the past week. Since it is a quick watch it won’t hurt to seek it out even if you are not an art aficionado or collector.


Next: CLINICA DE MIGRANTES is an affecting portrait of a volunteer-run health clinic that treats uninsured, undocumented immigrants. It debuts Monday, September 25.

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