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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Poor James Harvey

posted by on July 24 at 12:35 PM

James Gaddy, associate editor of PRINT magazine, has a lyrical story, Shadow Boxer, about the aspiring abstract expressionist who, in his day job, designed the Brillo boxes that helped make Andy Warhol famous.

For two artists whose aesthetic philosophies and levels of success were diametrically opposed, Warhol and Harvey had much in common. They both came from blue-collar, immigrant families. Warhol was born in Pittsburgh in 1928, Harvey a year later in Toronto before his family moved to Detroit when he was three months old. Warhol earned a degree at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon), moved to New York, and started illustrating for Glamour. Harvey studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago; after a brief move back to Detroit, where he designed window displays for retail giant J. L. Hudson (Warhol designed windows for Bonwit Teller), he moved to New York to break into the art world.

Imagine Harvey’s surprise when he saw Warhol’s Brillo boxes in their 1964 gallery debut. Harvey had despised the commercial process of making them, Gaddy writes. Harvey’s gallery, the Graham Gallery, responded to Warhol’s use of Harvey’s design.

The Graham Gallery was less amused. It issued a feeble press release on behalf of Stuart and Gunn (and Harvey) that stated: “It is galling enough for Jim Harvey, an abstract expressionist, to see that a pop artist is running away with the ball, but when the ball happens to be a box designed by Jim Harvey, and Andy Warhol gets the credit for it, well, this makes Jim scream: ‘Andy is running away with my box.’” But the final line practically admitted defeat: “What’s one man’s box, may be another man’s art.”

But Gaddy doesn’t stop there. He details more of the undoing of James Harvey, an unknown abstract expressionist who arrived a generation too late.

History has been as kind to Warhol, the aesthetic maestro, as it has been harsh to Harvey, the romantic on the cusp of the age of irony. James Harvey’s last show, at Graham in November 1964, presented paintings that were “dynamic, restless, and painted with rich skill,” according to the Times. But by July 15, 1965, Harvey was dead in New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital. He had succumbed to what was described in his obituary as a “long illness” (according to Washburn, this was a cancer of the blood). His family came and picked up his photographs, unsold canvases, and remaining possessions, and took everything back to Detroit, where it remains.

The image Gaddy uses for his story in PRINT is a Brillo box held in the apartment of the art historian Irving Sandler.

One of the few surviving examples of Harvey’s box is owned by the art historian Irving Sandler, who keeps it in his Manhattan apartment encased in Plexiglas. When Warhol was autographing copies of his Brillo Box at the Stable Gallery for $300, Sandler suggested that Harvey sign copies of his Brillo boxes at Graham—and sell them for 10 cents. Harvey signed only one and sent it to Sandler as a gift, a half-hearted gesture to reclaim something he never much cared for in the first place.


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As much as I love The Velvet Underground, and as much as I love all of the fabulous stories that bloomed because of Andy Warhol...the dude was a no-talent idiot. C'mon. He was. Psh, Valerie fuckin' Solanas knew it. Read my memoir!

Posted by Mr. Poe | July 24, 2007 12:38 PM

Andy Warhol was a completely successful blood sucking vampire, whether he had talent or not isn't the point. Talent doesn't always equal success, fame, and fortune. Isn't that obvious? Having the abibilty to capitalize on an idea at the right time, to steal things from others and make them your own, to stamp your name on others work and profit from it...there a kind of genius at work there too.

Posted by Udo Kier | July 24, 2007 2:36 PM

"a completely successful blood sucking vampire"

Amen to that.

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | July 24, 2007 8:41 PM

A similar thing happened to my buddy Scott Ewalt.

"*Scott Ewalt's neon "Cock" (1998) (edition of 3) was recently (somewhat shamelessly) "appropriated" by artist Terence Koh. The intellectually purloined white version is currently in the Saatchi Gallery."

At the same time, Scott's original red version was in the Deitch!

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | July 25, 2007 7:52 AM

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