Campbell’s Soup Andy Warhol
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Warhol first exhibited a series of paintings entitled Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. The 32 works on canvas were created entirely by hand using a systematic process of under-drawing, painting and stamping. The pieces were presented on shelves to replicate the supermarket display of soup cans. The exhibition was met largely with criticism and disbelief. A small number of the works were sold, the first to actor Denis Hopper. Ferus Gallery owner, Irving Blum subsequently regretted selling the works individually and bought the sold paintings back in order to maintain the series. In 1996 Blum transferred the set of paintings to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a reported $15 million. Warhol went on to utilise the image of the soup can throughout his career. In 1968 and 1969 he produced screen-printed portfolios of soup cans (Campbell’s Soup I and Campbell’s Soup II). The soup can appeared in his Reversals and Retrospectives series as well as in late career silkscreen works. The subject was reportedly one of his favourites, the artist once stated, “I should have just done the Campbell’s Soups and kept on doing them…everybody only does one painting anyway.” Warhol claimed he ate Campbell’s Soup daily for 20 years.
Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup works are archetypal of his practice: they contain within them ideas that would cement the artist’s position as the pioneer of pop and continue to influence generations of artists over 30 after his death. It is in these pieces that Warhol’s preoccupation with consumerism, appropriation, reproduction, mass media and the democratisation of culture come to the fore. The art of Warhol redefined what art could be. The artist’s first Campbell’s Soup can paintings introduced an idea central to Warhol’s oeuvre; that not only is everyday life valuable artistic subject matter, but that art is indeed inseparable from everyday life.
Warhol's works can be viewed as cultural artefacts. The Campbell's Soup reflects the artist's engagement with 20th American consumerism and popular culture. Warhol celebrated an art of the everyday: drawing on quotidian subject matter while employing commercial forms of production.
He deliberately rejected the high ideals of the abstract expressionist movement that predated him, seeking instead an art form that was no longer defined by the craftsmanship of the artist or an ideology of uniqueness. These works replicate the direct visual language of advertising and employ the artist's strategy of reproducing the same image in series in order to empty a subject of its meaning through repetition. The resultant image is powerfully ambivalent: an appropriated symbol that continues to circulate today in the worlds of contemporary art, culture and fashion. Warhol's Campbell's Soup works are not only important for their position in the development of American pop art and their place in the timeline of Warhol's career, they were remarkably prescient. Warhol's signature visual iconography remains startlingly significant in its relevance to a contemporary cultural moment defined by consumerism and the remediated image.
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