When Warhol first exhibited Campbell’s Soup Cans, in 1962, each of the thirty-two canvases rested on a shelf mounted on the wall, like groceries in a store. The number of paintings corresponds to the varieties of soup then sold by the Campbell Soup Company. Warhol assigned a different soup variety to each, checking them off on a product list supplied by Campbell once their “portraits” were completed.
Gallery label from On to Pop, September 29, 2010-April 25, 2011
Warhol made these paintings using a multi-step process. First, a pencil underdrawing of the soup cans outline was made on each canvas, possibly by tracing a projection of a drawing similar to the one on view in this gallery. Next, the can and label were painted by hand, and the lettering for each variety was projected and painted onto each canvas. Finally, the gold fleur-de-lis at the bottom of each can were applied with a stamp cut from a rubber eraser. Despite this systematic approach, there are subtle discrepancies among the paintings. For example, the reds and whites differ slightly in tone from one canvas to the next, and the fleur-de-lis imprints vary with each successive stamp.
Gallery label from Andy Warhol: Campbell's Soup Cans and Other Works, 1953–1967, April 25–October 18, 2015
"I don't think art should be only for the select few," Warhol believed, "I think it should be for the mass of the American people." Like other Pop artists, Warhol used images of already proven appeal to huge audiences: comic strips, ads, photographs of rock-music and movie stars, tabloid news shots. In Campbell's Soup Cans he reproduced an object of mass consumption in the most literal sense. When he first exhibited these canvases—there are thirty-two of them, the number of soup varieties Campbell's then sold—each one simultaneously hung from the wall, like a painting, and stood on a shelf, like groceries in a store.
Repeating the same image at the same scale, the canvases stress the uniformity and ubiquity of the Campbell's can. At the same time, they subvert the idea of painting as a medium of invention and originality. Visual repetition of this kind had long been used by advertisers to drum product names into the public consciousness; here, though, it implies not energetic competition but a complacent abundance. Outside an art gallery, the Campbell's label, which had not changed in over fifty years, was not an attention-grabber but a banality. As Warhol said of Campbell's soup, "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."
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 260