The Box As a Medium: 10 Boxes In Art

By Georgia Merritt | April 8th 2024

#Concept #history

What happens when the most enduring form of storage leaves behind ubiquity and becomes a unique protagonist? Have a glance at this eclectic mix of artworks in which the box isn’t just a structural solution, but a means of conceptual expression.


Andy Warhol

Brillo Box (Soap Pads), 1964

Close to exact copies of commercial packaging, Andy Warhol’s brillo boxes pose questions that persist to this day: When and how does a familiar or mundane object become a work of art? The most meta part of the Brillo works are, the fact that Warhol made numerous of them and widely sold them to commercial galleries, he not only replicated their physical form, but also the real product’s consumerist modes of production.

Image: MoMA

Walead Beshty FedEx® Large Box ©2005 FEDEX 139751 REV 10/05 SSCC, Priority Overnight, Los Angeles-New York trk#795506878000, November 27-28, 2007

Walead Beshty creates glass boxes which perfectly fit to the internal dimensions of various commercial FedEx boxes. These works are then shipped to the galleries they are to be shown in, in their fragility are damaged in the shipping/handling process, and then carefully removed to be shown in their exact broken state.

“The boxes themselves are a proprietary volume owned by FedEx… DHL or UPS are barred from using the exact same size and shape, so they’re a unit of space owned by a corporation…”

Image: Yellowtrace

Sol Lewitt

Two Cubes, 2005

Sol Lewitt’s Two Cubes plays with notions of minimalism and commerciality in the same breath. The wooden box at the work’s base mimics the brown of the quintessential cardboard box, in an essentialist, clean manner.

Image: 1stDibs

Joseph Beuys

Langhaus (Vitrine), 1953-62 and Fat Chair, 1964-85

Joseph Beuys implemented the vitrine throughout many of his sculptures. At the more artisanal end of boxes, these cabinets connote preciousness to the objects that lie inside. Made from glass and wood, Beuys’ vitrines are seen as much a part of the artwork as the sculptural elements they hold.

Image: Tate Modern

Lucas Samaras

Box #75, 1968

Conceptual assemblage artist Lucas Samaras has incorporated objects and photographs alike throughout his career. From the 1960 he began forging artworks from found and purchased boxes, transforming them into “...things with a seducing-repelling quality”. Box #75 features a graphic thorn motif, sitting somewhere between 2 and 3-d, along with its bold acrylic painted surface.

Image: Xippas

Richard Serra

One Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1986

“Even though it seemed it might collapse, it was in fact freestanding. You could see through it, look into it, walk around it, and I thought, “There’s no getting around it. This is sculpture.”

The sculptor Richard Serra used essentialist geometry in a variety of industrial materials, in this instance lead antimony, an alloy of the two metals with an extreme weight. One Ton Prop is the most substantial ‘house of cards', which Serra created in response to the verb ‘to prop’. The four sides of this box lean against one another, holding one another up. The distinction between its density, and the fleeting, almost light feeling in its execution, is vast.

Image: MoMA

Hans Haacke

Condensation Cube, 1963-5

Hans Haacke creates sculptures that exhibit their own biological processes. Condensation Cube is a sealed perspex box containing a small amount of water which then condenses over time, changing according to its surrounding light and temperature. Haacke’s cube holds a fleeting type of beauty, with its ever-changing condensation, that also transforms the immobile art-object into something more personified.

Image: Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona

Trevor Paglen

Autonomy Cube, 2015

Trevor Paglen’s Autonomy Cube is a plexiglass box housing a series of internet-connected computers, routing all of its traffic through Tor’s network: Autonomy Cube serves as an internet anonymizer. The glassy political statement is designed to be shown in galleries, museums, and civic spaces, permitting its users to evade techno-surveillance.

Image: Trevor Paglen

Franz Erhard Walther

Four Body Weights & First Work Set in Storage Form, 1963-9

Conceptual artist Franz Erhard Walther explores more abstract forms of space, relating to the human body through various durational performance works. In Four Body Weights, immateriality takes precedent: a simple box shape is ‘drawn’ by a piece of fabric held by four bodies. Erhard Walther was interested in objects, not by themselves, but how people transform and imbue life into them. He saw his works as ‘inhabitable spaces’: a box can feel like a house or a body that is altered by what it contains, and vice versa. In First Work Set in Storage Form Erhard Walther presents a variety of components used in various performances.

Image: Artforum

John Wood and Paul Harrison

Six Boxes, 1997

Humorous and playful performance artists John Wood and Paul Harrison make use of the simplicity of the box with great effect. “We have been interested in the idea of architectural spaces in a very basic way, the relationship between a wall and a floor; point, line and plane...” says Wood, and “and we worked with these very simple interests,” adds Harrison.

Image: STIRworld