Soup imitates Art imitates Soup

Fifty years ago, Andy Warhol rocked the art world and the world of popular culture with his depiction of Campbell’s soup cans at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. This year, Campbell’s returned the favor, with a collectors edition of 1.2 million cans of tomato soup that went on sale at Target on September 2.

Campbell’s 50th anniversary “Art of Soup” cans feature Andy Warhol picture and quotes on the back.

The art world of the ’50’s was dominated by the Abstract Expressionists, who lived bohemian lifestyles and had little but scorn for popular culture.  Warhol embraced it, even as he critiqued it with comments that ring true to this day, such as, “Someday everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962

Campbell’s at first had reservations about Warhol’s depictions, but two years later, noting the popularity of his art, Campbell’s marketing manager sent Warhol a letter of appreciation and “a couple of cases of soup.” That same year, Campbell’s commissioned the first of several artworks they would purchase from Warhol over the years.

Back of the special cans, with image of Warhol and quote

In one of his memorable quotes, Warhol said, “I am deeply superficial.”  Much like Marcel Duchamp, one of the thrusts of his work was to raise question the nature of art.  The Abstract Expressionists embraced a hard drinking, hard loving, bohemian stance.  Willem de Kooning wore paint spattered jeans to his opening at the Museum of Modern Art.  He shunned imagery that “the masses” could comprehend, and celebrated the personal signature of his unique, impassioned brush strokes.

Warhol wore coats and ties, called his studio, “The Factory,” and his best known works showed common objects, reproduced by photo silkscreen, often by an assistant.  Warhol never touched them at all.  “Art is whatever you can get away with,” he said.  Regarding the bohemian set, he said, ““Those who talk about individuality the most are the ones who most object to deviation.”

If Duchamp and Warhol are kindred spirits, there is one great difference between them.  When Duchamp hung a urinal in a gallery, he did it for the shock value.  By all accounts, Warhol truly loved the icons of popular culture he depicted.  He also loved technology and experimented with an Amiga computer shortly before his death in 1987.  No doubt he would have been pleased by Campbell’s tribute.

Andy Warhol by Jack Mitchell. CC by SA

*** Some Andy Warhol quotes ***

“I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.”

“I’d asked around 10 or 15 people for suggestions. Finally one lady friend asked the right question, ‘Well, what do you love most?’ That’s how I started painting money.”

“It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.”

“During the 1960s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered.”

“Some day everybody will just think what they want to think, and then everybody will probably be thinking alike; that seems to be what is happening.” 

*** Update on the collectors cans ***

The edition of 1.2 million cans that went on sale September 2 for $0.75 appears to be sold out:  four can sets are going for $20 – $30 on eBay.