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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Small Campbell's Soup Can (Chili Beef)

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Small Campbell's Soup Can (Chili Beef)
signed 'Andy Warhol' (on the stretcher)
casein, metallic paint and graphite on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm.)
Painted in 1962.
Stable Gallery, New York
Maria and Conrad Janis, Beverly Hills, 1962-1963
Private collection, Europe
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, Nee York, 1970, p. 250, no. 466 (illustrated).
R. Crone, Das Bildnerische Werk Andy Warhols, Berlin, 1976, no. 815.
G. Frei and N. Pritz, eds. The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Sculptures, 1961-1963, vol. 01, 2002, pp. 73 and 75, no. 56 (illustrated in color).
Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Pop Goes! The Easel, April 1963, no. 35.

Lot Essay

Andy Warhol's Small Campbell's Soup Can (Chilli Beef) was painted early in 1962 at the dawn of the Pop age. Soon after the work was completed, Warhol was given his first one-man exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, where he showed a series of pictures of soup cans which are now among the best-known works in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In part because of that exhibition, Warhol's soup cans would alter the course of history, sending shock waves through the art world in the manner of Duchamp in 1912. As the legendary curator Henry Geldzahler would recall: "The Campbell's Soup Can was the Nude Descending a Staircase of pop art. Here was an image that became an overnight rallying point for the sympathetic and the bane of the hostile. Warhol captured the imagination of the media and the public as had no other artist of his generation. Andy was pop and pop was Andy" (H. Geldzahler, quoted in V. Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, London, 1998, pp. 159-60).

One of only three soup cans of this size that Warhol produced in 1962, this particular example is distinguished by the artist's use of silver metallic paint. In Small Campbell's Soup Can (Chilli Beef) Warhol uses an additional embellishment of silver to the bottom rim, thus completing the metallic illusion. In addition to offering a more realistic rendition of the object itself, Warhol's use of silver in this work is one of the earliest examples of what would become one of his favorite colors. He would begin using it to even greater effect the following year with his series of Silver Liz paintings of the Hollywood icon, Elizabeth Taylor. In addition to its glamorous associations, for Warhol, silver was also the color that defined the age of high consumerism and in the form of aluminum foil and cans at least-all that was modern, clean, malleable and ultimately disposable.

By 1962 Campbell's Soup cans were standard features in the lives of all Americans, piled in pyramids and lining walls in shops and supermarkets throughout the United States. They were not merely icons, but were in fact the building blocks and backdrops of every American's life and had been for decades. When Warhol chose to add the Campbell's soup can to his rapidly expanding pantheon of cultural icons, he managed to tap into a vein of sentiment and nostalgia amongst viewers in a way that his previous works had not. Yet the Campbell's Soup pictures have the appearance of extreme indifference: the image, isolated in the center of its canvas, betrays nothing of the artist's life or thoughts. Warhol left no hint of painterliness or of emotion. This apparent indifference was reinforced by the display of 32 Campbell's Soup Cans at the Ferus Gallery in 1962: the assembled pictures were displayed in regular rows, mimicking shop shelves the same can echoed again and again, the only variation being in the names of the various soups.

Warhol linked Campbell's soup explicitly to his, and by extension to every American's, life and childhood: "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. Someone said my life has dominated me; I like that idea" (A. Warhol quoted in G. Swenson, Art News, November 1963, p. 26). Although the Ferus Gallery display perfectly embodied Warhol's idea of having 'the same thing over and over again', each soup can was intended as an individual work of art. The display of the works together on shelves, engineered with Warhol's enthusiastic approval by Irving Blum, conspired to present them in a way that emphasized their relationship to each other, and yet also discreetly mocked the art market itself, with the paintings appearing as a commodity, the gallery openly displaying its commercial nature. Another dealer further down the street from the Ferus Gallery famously bought some actual soup cans and displayed them in his gallery window with a sign proclaiming 'Do Not Be Misled. Get the Original. Our Low Price - Two for 33 Cents' (G. Frei & N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculpture 1961-1963, New York, 2002, p. 70).

Warhol's use of such a ubiquitous object also divided the critics; some dismissing his work outright while others were enthralled. It is interesting that Donald Judd, then a reviewer, showed such an interest in Warhol's works, as his rows of Campbell's Soup Cans in the Ferus Gallery exhibition could be seen to preempt Minimalism, a movement which claimed Warhol's later Brillo Boxes as an important influence. By appropriating an everyday image and reproducing it in a self-consciously mechanical way with little sign of artistic intervention, Warhol has undermined the process of artistic creation. The controlled appearance of Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans can be seen as a direct insult to the celebrated Abstract Expressionists. However, by selecting something as recognizable and universal as Campbell's Soup, Warhol managed to create an instantly understandable artwork.

In an interview in 1962, the year that Small Campbell's Soup Can (Chilli Beef) was painted, Warhol said, "I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use every day and never think about. I'm working on soups, and I've been doing some paintings of money. I just do it because I like it" (A. Warhol, quoted in "The Slice-of-Cake School," Time, May 11, 1962, p. 52). For in whatever guise the explanation is packaged, in selecting this motif, Warhol elevated the backdrop of everyday consumer life through his paintings, placing those products on a new artistic pedestal.

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