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MOCA: Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Cans, all 32 of them.

July 24, 2011 Art, Contemporary No Comments

On loan from MoMA, and for a limited time, on display at MOCA Grand.

By the way, you’re not supposed to take photos of this exhibit (oops, I didn’t see the sign).

All 32 soup can canvases lined up and available for viewing in Los Angeles. The last time they were displayed in such a fashion was 49 years ago, at Irving Blum’s now-defunct Ferus Gallery on La Cienega! It was Andy Warhol’s first solo exhibition.

Now, to really appreciate the soup cans and the context does require some art history knowledge…..

and Wikipedia says it best (what’s bold is what I find interesting):

Warhol, a commercial illustrator who became a successful author, publisher, painter, and film director, showed the work on July 9, 1962 in his first one-man gallery exhibition as a fine artist.in the Ferus Gallery of Los Angeles, California. The exhibition marked the West Coast debut of pop art. The combination of the semi-mechanized process, the non-painterly style, and the commercial subject initially caused offense, as the work’s blatantly mundane commercialism represented a direct affront to the technique and philosophy of abstract expressionism. In the United States the abstract expressionism art movement was dominant during the post-war period, and it held not only to “fine art” values and aesthetics but also to a mystical inclination. This controversy led to a great deal of debate about the merits and ethics of such work. Warhol’s motives as an artist were questioned, and they continue to be topical to this day. The large public commotion helped transform Warhol from being an accomplished 1950s commercial illustrator to a notable fine artist, and it helped distinguish him from other rising pop artists. Although commercial demand for his paintings was not immediate, Warhol’s association with the subject led to his name becoming synonymous with the Campbell’s Soup can paintings.

Note written on the MOCA exhibition wall.

 Andy Warhol’s (b. 1928, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; d. 1987, New York) Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) is perhaps the most emblematic representation of his work and also of American pop art. Pop artists were interested in taking objects and images abundantly present in everyday life as their subjects, integrating popular culture into fine art. Making use of mechanical reproduction techniques and repetition, Warhol’s approach has been seen as cool and dispassionate. In the Campbell’s Soup Cans series, the works are also celebratory and nostalgic. Warhol reproduced the industrial look of the thirty-two soup-can labels by hand, although the fleur-de-lis motifs were mechanically printed and retain a quality that suggests mass production—an appearance seemingly at odds with the traditional notion of an artwork as a unique expression of the individual artist.

This presentation marks the first time Campbell’s Soup Cans has been shown in Los Angeles since its historic exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in July 1962, Warhol’s first solo show. In addition to celebrating one of the most influential exhibitions in the history of contemporary art, this project honors the legendary dealer Irving Blum, director of the Ferus Gallery, who gave Warhol his first solo exhibition. Blum has told the story that Warhol was reluctant to have his first exhibition in Los Angles rather than New York, and encouraged Warhol by telling him that “movie stars come to the gallery.” In fact, there was only a small Hollywood contingent that was part of the Los Angeles art world, including Dennis Hopper and a few of his friends, but Warhol was eventually convinced.

Blum sold several of the paintings for $100 each, but as the show was coming down, he realized that it was essential that all of the works be kept together. He asked the buyers whether they would consider canceling their purchases, and they agreed. Blum kept all thirtytwo Campbell’s Soup Cans in his collection until 1996, when they were acquired by the Museum of Modern Art as partial gift and purchase.

Entrance to the exhibit

As an aside, there has been much debate on what inspired Warhol to pick Campbell’s soup cans as the object of his foray into fine art. Some of the more amusing stories include the one being pitched by MoMA – that Warhol ate the stuff daily for 20 years. Yea, Warhol was an eccentric, but really?

It is refreshing then, to read art critic Christopher Knight’s theory – that Warhol was inspired by Willem de Kooning:

I have a different answer to the question “Why soup?” — one that I don’t believe has been proposed before now. It takes some explaining. But the short answer is this: Soup was essential studio slang, the conversational lingo among New York School painters when they talked about their work.

Specifically, soup was the metaphor used by Willem de Kooning — the most successful artist of the era — to characterize his robust Abstract Expressionism. If soup worked for him, why not for Warhol?

“Everything is already in art,” the painter [De Kooning] gently demurs. “Like a big bowl of soup. Everything is in there already, and you stick your hand in and you find something for you.”

At 56, De Kooning stood at the pinnacle of New York’s art heap. Famously handsome, he was a bona fide artist-celebrity. In the words of his friend, the playwright and essayist Lionel Abel, walking with him through Greenwich Village was like “being with a movie star.” Heads turned and strangers stopped him in the street. It’s no surprise that Warhol, a wildly successful commercial artist in the 1950s who really wanted a fine art career, would soon decide that he should paint soup too. He set his considerable advertising skills to the task.

De Kooning’s influence on Warhol is seldom acknowledged, but his exalted stature would surely have been envied by the celebrity-obsessed younger artist, then 32. Such public eminence for a Modern American painter was virtually unprecedented. Warhol, employing a logic difficult to debate, soon chose soup’s most famous brand to sanctify in paint on canvas.

Anyways, back to the program……

There’s a large poster advertising the current exhibit. I think that it’s cool that it is very similar to the one that was displayed at the Ferrus Gallery. I hope they make smaller versions.

 Sure, the soup cans are ubiquitous in pop art (but that’s the point), and have become fodder for those inciting how “silly” art is. But again, to understand these works of art require an appreciation for art history, or just history in general. And if that’s not your thing, well then… you’re not very cool and can’t be my friend… kidding, kind of… not really.

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