ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987) Campbell's Soup Box (Noodle Soup), 1986

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Lot 22
ANDY WARHOL
(1928-1987)
Campbell's Soup Box (Noodle Soup), 1986

Sold for US$ 209,000 inc. premium
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE TEXAS COLLECTION
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Campbell's Soup Box (Noodle Soup), 1986

signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 86' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas

14 x 14in.
35.6 x 35.6cm

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Martin Lawrence Galleries, Washington, D.C.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1988.

    Literature
    M. S. Blinder, Warhol Campbell's Soup Boxes, exh. cat., Los Angeles, Michael Kohn Gallery, 1986, cat. no. 101 (illustrated in color, p. 31).


    Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Box iterations are nothing if not iconic, shattering the division between high and low culture. Coolly detached in persona yet utterly perceptive in his appropriation of images and ideology, Warhol skillfully succeeded in revolutionizing both contemporary art and society through the power of serial representation. Campbell's Soup Box (Noodle Soup), 1986, is a harmonious yet inherently subversive blend of the industrial with the artistic, the easily reproducible with the incredibly rare, the readily accessible with the highly covetable.

    Prone to drawing at an early age when he was bedridden by illness, Warhol never struggled with a lack of subject matter. He first began his extensive and prolific experimentation with advertising images in the late 1950s and early 1960s, struck by the symbolism of the blunt, seemingly simplistic graphics and bold, invasive colors. Of particular fascination to Warhol was the layered white and red Campbell's Soup Can label that flooded American supermarkets and pantries alike and would later become a quintessential subject for the artist's canvases and silkscreens. Warhol first drew out the Campbell's soup can exactly as he saw it, then transferred the image onto a multitude of canvases painted a stark, illuminating white, using a screenprint technique that virtually eliminated any semblance of the artist's discernible brushstroke.

    In 1962, Los Angeles' Ferus Gallery showed a set of 32 Campbell's Soup Cans by Warhol, that, when exhibited together, presented a beautiful dichotomy between mass accessibility and highbrow art. In his manipulation of the soup can product, presented in a dizzying array of 32 nearly identical works, Warhol was able to reproduce a purchasable commodity with an intrinsic value far exceeding that of the neighborhood grocer's shelves. Warhol's Campbell's series became irrefutably provocative "through its harsh, cold parody of ad-mass appeal—the repetition of brand images like Campbell's soup or Brillo or Marilyn Monroe (a star being a human brand image) to the point where a void is seen to yawn beneath the discourse of promotion. The tension this set up depended on the assumption, still in force in the Sixties, that there was a qualitative difference between the perceptions of high art and the million daily instructions issued by popular culture."1 Warhol was not alone in his appropriations of consumption and blanket imagery. Railing against the preexisting ideology that valuable art did not depict the mundane, many Pop artists favored the inclusion of mainstream items into their body of work. Similar to Claes Oldenburg's transformation of the ordinary in his monumental, scale-defying sculptures, and Robert Indiana's bold exploration of identity and the American life through highway signs and vocabulary, Warhol, too, adopted the embellishment of the familiar, everyday object as an art form, challenging public consciousness and suggesting that the choice in subject matter is just as important, if not more so, than artistic execution.

    Impersonal and prepackaged, the Soup Box represented the exploitation of mass appeal: crudely designed with general accessibility in mind, the product itself was garish and unapologetic, created purely for the purpose of collective consumption. However, Warhol's Soup Boxes were anything but superficial. In fact, prominent gallerist and Warhol critic Michael Kohn argues that the Soup Box series "can be seen as an example of culmination and continuum in Warhol's oeuvre; for the artist who supposedly imbues no meaning into his work, these new paintings represent an entire career of commentary upon recent American art."2 With Campbell's Soup Box (Noodle Soup), Warhol's aesthetic interpretation of banality takes the form of high art, his satire of commonplace household products and their implicit embodiment of a perfect, happy life entrancingly sublime.

    Repetition and appropriation of pop culture images thus became the artist's trademark, and though the Campbell's Soup Boxes are among the most instantly recognizable of his commercial canvases, they are also among the most desirable. Silkscreen inks are methodically and mechanically applied to canvas, yet the artist's hand is unmistakable. When considered alongside the early Soup Cans of 1962, Warhol's boxed version of the Campbell's classic crafts a particular irony. If the original intent was to erase every semblance of the painterly hand to mimic the object in its purest form, then the later iterations of the same subject matter aim to destroy the artist's previous conventions. Inherent in the present work is a subtle yet exquisite contradiction: the characteristic flatness of the canvas is punctuated by the pronounced, royal blue that leaps off the soup box, invading the unblemished white space of the canvas. The work is rendered in unadulterated primary colors, alluding to the nostalgia for a simpler era in times of political and economic turmoil. Kohn illustrates the extreme emphasis Warhol placed on coloration, noting, "Overall, the intensity of the color in each painting adds to a calculated tension in the series as a whole: the more intense the coloration, the less recognizable the Campbell's product becomes. Moreover, in serial form the repetition of the Campbell's logo and soup title rendered in unfamiliar color furthers the tension between recognizability and transformation."3 Though the artist worked in numerous iterations of the same image, no two works are completely alike. It is the slight, almost indistinguishable differences from one Soup Box to the next that guarantee their unique power in the Pop art market.

    Warhol's triumphant revisitation in the mid-1980s to the subject matter that garnered him international renown as perhaps the most influential visual and commercial artist of his time is self-referential, evocative of not only Andy Warhol the man, but Andy Warhol the brand. His Soup Boxes simultaneously celebrate and caricature the American capitalist society: driven by consumerism and highly dependent on the interaction between individual and image. Warhol's masterful manipulation of commercial imagery in his reproduction of Campbell's Soup Boxes forces the viewer to consider the packaging of the soup box as an object separate and apart from the canvas itself, challenging the visual literacy of the American public and the way in which symbols and labels inform society. The packaging then becomes its own entity, made valuable in its own right through Warhol's repetitive exposure. Despite this repetition, Warhol himself never loses his connection to his work, stating, "The process of doing work in commercial art was machine-like, but the attitude had feeling to it."4 Undoubtedly, it is the acute affection rather than apathetic mimicry with which the later Soup Box works are imbued that allow them to transcend time and trend, branding them a crucial narrative in Warhol's anthology.

    Thus, Warhol's legacy is undeniable and his impact on contemporary art inescapable, the reverberation of his contributions to both the painterly practice and pop culture still echoing in today's society.


    1. R. Hughes, "The Rise of Andy Warhol," 1982, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1982/02/18/the-rise-of-andy-warhol/.
    2. Warhol Campbell's Soup Boxes, exh. cat., Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, 1986, p. 11.
    3. Ibid., p. 14.
    4. A Warhol, in an interview with Gene Swenson, Art News, 1963.
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