Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Chicken ’n Dumplings, 1969
Warhol’s soup-can debut came in his first solo exhibition, at Los Angeles' Ferus Gallery in 1962: 32 painted canvases, each depicting a different flavor, sat on thin ledges like so many cans stocked on a supermarket shelf. A year later, the critic Gene R. Swenson asked Warhol why he had started painting the mundane grocery item. Warhol answered: "Because I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again." (1)Such a seemingly simple response captures the themes of familiarity and repetition that are key to understanding pop art generally and Warhol’s work specifically. Not guided by any collective agenda or manifesto, pop artists drew imagery from common, abundantly produced sources such as comic books and magazines. Then they created their own artworks by employing many of the same reproduction technologies used to make the source materials. Throughout his career, Warhol took instantly recognizable images--such as Coca-Cola bottles and celebrities' faces--and reproduced them in ways that mimicked and underscored their seemingly infinite circulation in popular visual culture. Using mass-produced images of mass-produced items, he in turn mass-produced his prints and paintings of these commodities.
Warhol’s repetition of the soup can was so ubiquitous that artist and image became almost synonymous. This link was aptly caricatured on the cover of the May 1969 issue of Esquire magazine, which bore a manipulated photograph of Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell's soup. And in 1977, a depiction of the iconic soup can appeared on the paperback cover of the artist’s book of observations, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. The artist had essentially rebranded Campbell's, making its graphic identity a sign not only for the company and its food products but also for his aesthetic approach and for himself.
--Emily Stamey, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ulrich Museum of Art
1. Warhol quoted in Gene R. Swenson, "What Is Pop Art?: Answers from Eight Painters, Part I," Art News 62 (November 1963): 26.