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Warhol’s Soup Cans—Now With Actual Soup?

The idea of owning one of Andy Warhol’s landmark Pop Art paintings from the Campbell’s Soup Cans series of the early 1960s seems a dream, unless you have some spare millions to dream with. On the 50th anniversary of Warhol’s first solo show, which featured the start of the soup cans, Target is now offering a slightly more affordable version (shown above). For the low, low price of 75 cents you can own a Warhol and have yourself some lunch for the bargain. The 1.2 million cans stocked on Target store shelves across the United States are already making their way out the door (and even onto eBay). Is this a good thing for modern art, or is the whole enterprise full of soup?

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the group controlling licensing of all things Andy, teamed up with Target and Campbell’s Soup when this unique marketing opportunity for all three organizations appeared on the radar. “This is not something that we do every day," Campbell's Soup’s director of communications, Liesl Henderson, remarked. “But we've maintained a collaborative relationship with the Warhol Foundation over the years, and there's a fascination, it seems, with all things Warhol.” The design of the cans themselves features the more expressive, explosive colors Warhol used in later riffs on the soup can motif and not the more faithful red, white, and gold of the classic Campbell’s can. On the back of each commemorative can appears a portrait of Warhol himself saying via cartoon bubble one of his famous fortune-cookie pronouncements on art.

With the Metropolitan Museum of Art set to launch their Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years exhibition this week, it seems the perfect time for marketing Warhol to the masses, not that Warhol himself didn’t do that himself as part of the whole Pop Art movement. Maybe the Met will put Campbell’s tomato soup on the cafeteria menu and throw in the can as a keepsake? Target’s targeting of a mass audience for the Warhol tribute cans appears to be a big hit so far, but if it can generate interest in a reevaluation and renewed appreciation of Warhol’s art, the consequences go so much further. Just as Duchamp stood at the center of all art, including Warhol’s, for the whole middle of the 20th century, Warhol is the unavoidable fact of life for all artists who have been working since the 1960s. You either work with or against Andy, but you can never work without him somewhere in the back of your mind.

Of course, too much Warhol can also be a bad thing, although I’m sure Andy himself would never admit to that fact. As I wrote about previously, some observers watching closely the untimely demise of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LAMoCA) blame art dealer turned LAMoCA director Jeffrey Deitch’s Warhol obsession for the crumbling of that once proud, artist-centered museum. Can too much Warhol lead to an overwhelming dread of his art? Or, as MTV used to market itself, is too much never enough? If Warhol is about challenging overconsumption and hyperconsumerism in America, isn’t being disconcertingly full of soup, especially Warhol commemorative soup, exactly what we want, if not need? Perhaps these commemorative cans will one day become the 21st century equivalent of Billy Beer—a momentary fad full of a once edible commodity—but if they do, then maybe they’ll finally succeed in the mission Warhol originally intended them to carry out.

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