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Dept. of Tasteless Product Promos by Museums: Brillo® at the Warhol


At the Metropolitan Museum’s recent “Regarding Warhol” show: “Brillo Soap Pad Boxes,” 1964, Andy Warhol Museum
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

From time to time, I have griped about how some museums have allowed themselves to be co-opted into promoting the commercial products of their corporate sponsors. One such instance involved the Warhol Museum’s loan of 30 Warhol Coca-Colas to the then new World of Coca-Cola museum near the soft-drink company’s Atlanta headquarters. (I also published rebuttals by the Pittsburgh museum’s then director, Tom Sokolowski, and other CultureGrrl readers.)

But Brillo really rubbed (and scrubbed) me the wrong way with the over-the-top advertising copy it appended to the Warhol’s new press release (regarding a Brillo-sponsored museum app), issued this week under the auspices of Sokolowki’s successor, Eric Shiner.

This excerpt from that press release is definitely more than art lovers need to know regarding that abrasive product:

About Brillo®
For nearly 100 years, Brillo® has remained one of America’s most well known and most trusted household cleaning brands. Our iconic [!?!] line of products include Brillo® Steel Wool Soap Pads and Brillo Estracell® More Sanitary Sponges. Independent test results demonstrate that bacteria will not feed and survive on the sponge fibers of Estracell® sponge material…Naturally! [That’s good, because I’m feeling slimy already!]

The unique cell structure rinses cleaner and dries out faster eliminating the perfect breeding condition for bacteria and fungal growth. These qualities make Estracell® MORE SANITARY! [their emphasis, not mine]

Armaly Brands, maker of Brillo®, Brillo Estracell®, AutoShow® and Armaly ProPlus® is based in Walled Lake, MI. Brillo products are made in the USA. For more information, visit

First Coca-Cola, then Campbell’s Soup, now Brillo soap pads. Can corn pads be far behind?

“Dr. Scholl’s Corns,” 1961, Metropolitan Museum Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Warhol, “Dr. Scholl’s Corns,” 1961, Metropolitan Museum
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I’ve heard the argument defending such direct commercial tie-ins related to exhibitions of Warhol’s (and also Murakami’s) works: Commercial products and their images are an integral part of some artists’ oeuvre. But that doesn’t give museums license to loosen their ethical standards regarding the promotion of sponsors’ goods in ways that go beyond acknowledging and thanking the funder.

Accepting a corporation’s sponsorship shouldn’t mean becoming a tool of its advertising department. An exhibition’s effect on a sponsor’s bottom line should come from enhancing its public image through its support of a worthy cultural institution, not from exploiting that institution as a toney venue for hawking its wares.

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