CHARLES LUTZ BABEL (Brillo Stockholm Type)by Michael Straus
Armory Show | March 7 – 10, 2013
Visitors to this year’s Armory Show in New York were treated to that rarest of opportunities in the current art world: free artworks, in this case the artist Charles Lutz’s exact replicas of the 500 cardboard Brillo Soap Pad cartons that Andy Warhol had the Brillo Manufacturing Company ship from Brooklyn to Stockholm for the opening of his show at the Moderna Museet in 1968. Each visitor to the Armory was invited to take a box; and the fair’s aisles, booths, coat check rooms and other nooks and crannies were soon awash with these unwieldy but cheerful objects, each bearing Lutz’s signature.
The project—commissioned by Eric Shiner, Director of the Andy Warhol Museum—was not mere whimsy, fun though it was. Indeed, contrary to a critical review in the New York Times suggesting that it reflected a questionable effort to claim the “Pope of Pop as patron saint of art fairs,” Lutz’s project is less a function of art fair mania than the further elaboration of a serious conceptual project he has been engaged in since 2006, beginning with his extensive series “Warhol Denied” in which he faithfully replicated in form and medium several Warhol paintings and sculptures (Brillo boxes silkscreened on plywood; self portraits and portraits of others silkscreened on canvas, etc.); sent them to the Andy Warhol Authentication Board with his own signature on the back; thereby sought and obtained a red ink “DENIED” stamp on the works from the Authentication Board indicating their lack of authenticity; and then sold them in the open market with full disclosure of the facts, as a means both of questioning “what is a Warhol” and challenging the authority of the Authentication Board to make that determination.
Lutz’s work, in other words, is worlds away from the schemes of people like Joe Simon, who notoriously sued the Andy Warhol Foundation itself in a failed effort to profit off of a fake painting. Instead, Lutz presents his replications of Warhol’s works under his own signature in order to push at the conceptual edges of replication and originality; to challenge the economic assumptions at work in the art world; to test our perceptions of form and color independent of branding and value; and to make it possible for nearly everyone to own a “real Warhol,” or at least one created, in his view, in the true spirit of Warhol. At a minimum, he seeks to undermine the view that authentication judgments concerning Warhol’s works must be binary in nature, i.e., it either “is” one or it “isn’t.”
Lutz doesn’t ask you to agree with him as to what constitutes a “Warhol,” but simply to engage in the conceptualized discussion. Against that background, it appears less frivolous than the New York Times would have it for the Warhol Museum’s curator to commission replicated Brillo boxes to be given away free at an art fair, particularly in the face of the prices otherwise commanded by those works concededly touched by the master’s hand. Would Andy have approved? I don’t dare presume to say. But I like to think he would’ve been more than happy to pick a Lutzian Warhol off the Armory’s Tower of Babel for himself. I know I was!
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MICHAEL STRAUS is a contributing writer for the Rail and is also Chairman of the Board of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The views expressed in this review, however, are not attributable to the Foundation but are entirely his own.