With Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) Andy Warhol takes as his subject a ubiquitous staple food found in millions of American homes and turns it into high art. With the unique candor he displayed in the best of his early Pop art works he appropriates the curved lines and iconic graphic imagery of a tin of canned soup and re-examines them in the context of their pure visual qualities.
Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans transformed him into an overnight sensation when they were first exhibited in Los Angeles in 1962. It was his first one-person exhibition organized by Irving Blum, the legendary and visionary director of the Ferus Gallery. The exhibition featured thirty-two “portraits” of soup cans, each identical except for the flavor inscribed on their labels. These revolutionary paintings were displayed on a small narrow shelf that ran along the wall of the gallery in a way that suggested not only a gallery rail but also the long shelves in a grocery store. With these works, Warhol took on the tradition of still life painting, declaring a familiar household brand of packaged food a legitimate subject in the age of Post-War economic recovery.
The 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans are now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At the same time he produced this series, he also produced less than a dozen of what Irving Blum called “early versions”, single canvases that are virtually identical to the ones included in the exhibition except for the absence of metallic paint. The present work is one of these “early versions”. Warhol had just started using silkscreen that year, which makes Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) among the earliest examples of the medium through which he would forever transform the landscape of late 20th Century art. Furthermore, in using the commercial process of silkscreen to render this seemingly banal subject, and mediating it through a factory-based production system, Warhol questioned the sacrosanct notion of artistic subjectivity...
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