Life-long connoisseur Herbert Brito has amassed an impressive collection of Andy Warhol originals topping two dozen pieces. A constant player in the art-dealing world, he’s also owned works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella. But for Brito the business of collecting is all about heart, not commerce.
One of Savannah’s 19th-century squares has a surprising, decidedly modern, secret; it’s home to some of the 20th century’s most iconic pop figures: Marilyn, Liz, Judy and Jackie, all famously rendered by another contemporary icon—Andy Warhol. The pop art portraits are part of an impressive collection of Andy Warhol pieces amassed over a span of almost 40 years by Herbert Brito. In addition to being an interior designer, historic preservationist, furniture designer, and since last August, dean of SCAD’s School of Building Arts, Brito is a storyteller. “Why do we love Savannah? Savannah tells us a story. The architectural continuum tells us a wonderful story,” he says. And similarly, Brito’s Savannah home tells a story. It tells his story, what he’s passionate about. “Herbert’s collection is magnificent,” says Paula Wallace, president and co-founder of SCAD. “It’s a reflection of the man himself: effortlessly sophisticated yet radiating warmth.” Born in Cuba, Brito came to Miami when he was 7 and first became interested in Andy Warhol after spending a summer with cousins in Los Angeles. “They took me to see a show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and there were all these fabulous artists—Jasper Johns; George Segal, the sculptor; Frank Stella; and Andy Warhol. I was fascinated by the fact that the art was totally consumer based.”
Brito bought his first Warhol—a purple silkscreen Marilyn (1967) for $250—when he was just 20 years old, a junior studying at Birkbeck College, University in London. “Every day on the way to school, I would pass this gallery and see her. I saved and scrounged my British pounds. And my roommate saved and scrounged his British pounds. Well, he bought a tailor-made suit at Savile Row that summer and I went and bought the Marilyn. Years later, we laughed, I said, ‘Whose investment was better?’ He didn’t even know where his suit ended up!” The Marilyn is still Brito’s most cherished Warhol. “It gives me joy to this day,” he says. Of the 1967 portfolio of ten Marilyn screenprints that Warhol created ($250 each), Brito owns five—the black and white, the pink, the blue, the purple, and the green. While they clearly have aesthetic value to him, Brito also finds value in the story behind their creation. “Warhol manipulated a publicity picture of Marilyn as if she would appear in black-and-white TV. He would play with those three buttons that were on the TV: Color, Tint and Hue,” he explains. “He would twist them; he gave her a purple face and red face, etcetera. It was his commentary on the advent of color televisions.”