In July 1962, Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987) had his first one-person exhibition of paintings, at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles. The exhibition consisted of thirty-two nearly identical canvases representing a supermarket staple, Campbell’s soup—one for each flavor then sold. The thirty-four-year-old Warhol was not yet a household name, and Pop art, the movement with which he is now closely identified, was still on the cusp of becoming a phenomenon. With Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), Warhol achieved a major breakthrough: he began to make serial repetitions of subjects from American commodity culture.
This exhibition shines a spotlight on this iconic work, one of the landmarks in The Museum of Modern Art’s collection. Here, it is presented with works Warhol made in the prior decade, when he started his career as a commercial artist, and with paintings and prints he made in the five years after he finished Campbell’s Soup Cans, as he became a beacon of Pop art.
Although Warhol’s subjects and techniques evolved significantly during these years, he continued to be inspired by images and processes from commercial print media. During the 1950s, he made many drawings by tracing magazines and photographs, and he also devised an innovative method of transferring drawings through blotting. By 1960 his ambition turned to painting. Using images from advertisements he found in newspapers and other print sources, he created a body of work that culminated in Campbell’s Soup Cans. Toward the end of 1962, he discovered the silkscreen (or screenprint) process that would become his signature technique. Its capacity for mechanical reproduction made it the perfect vehicle for his relentless repetitions of commercially appropriated, quotidian subjects.