Happy 50th Anniversary, Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans!
By Lenika Cruz
Hey you, yeah you with your "10 Marilyns" tote and your "The Velvet Underground & Nico" record stashed somewhere in your basement. Maybe you snickered with amusement when you first heard about "Blow Job"? Perhaps you watched "Factory Girl" and secretly liked it, despite what the critics said? Whatever form your Andy Warhol appreciation has taken over the years, you should know that L.A. has had the distinct privilege of being the city where the "prince of pop" (and pop art for that matter) made his West Coast debut exactly 50 years ago today.
Warhol's first solo art gallery exhibition took place at L.A.'s Ferus Gallery in 1962 with the famous "Campbell's Soup Cans," which he sold altogether for a meager $1,000. At the premiere, the 32 "portraits" (nearly identical except for the soup names) were displayed on a shelf like products in a grocery store and in the order in which they were made available for consumption. Tomato, the most ubiquitous, was first. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that Warhol intended a specific arrangement for his paintings. Check out the original event poster on MOCA's blog.
The show made Warhol something of an overnight sensation, according to Christie's, but less because of the immediate recognition of artistic value and more because of the controversy it caused by depicting mass-produced commercial objects. While pop art did concern itself with mass production, the repetitiveness of the paintings was also probably inspired by the delicious fact that Warhol ate Campbell's soup for lunch every day for 20 years straight.
Warhol continued to play around with the Campbell's soup can image, especially Tomato, which turned out to be the most expensive of the set. The original 32 paintings later sold as a collection to their permanent home at New York's Museum of Modern Art for $15 million, an astounding price for contemporary art at the time.
So, what's changed in the last 50 years? Campbell's decided to discontinue its Pepper Pot Soup two years ago, adding to the souvenir status of Warhol's paintings. Also gone are Chili Beef, Scotch Broth and Cream of Vegetable; onion soup was changed to French Onion soup. Campbell's fans now have the options of spooning Spongebob Squarepants-themed soup and lower sodium healthy options into their bellies.