Why Campbell Soup Hated, Then Embraced, Andy Warhol’s Soup Can Paintings
Shortly after, the company sent a lawyer.
Campbell’s eventual partnership with the Warhol estate presaged the convergence of high art, advertising, branding and fashion that is commonplace today.
A cease and desist order was considered. But in July 1962, John T. Dorrance, Jr., the son of the inventor of condensed soup, had just taken over the presidency. He was an avid art collector and well established in the art world. As criticism of the show mounted – “Is it art?” – advertising too. For whatever reason, the company forwarded a lawsuit.
Additionally, the gallery’s exhibition fared poorly, with only five of the works selling for around $100 each, although one went to Hollywood star Dennis Hopper.
Warhol, born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, the son of Slovak immigrants, was still better known as a commercial illustrator for shoe brands and department stores than as a visual artist. Gallery owner Irving Blum decided the paintings might be worth more as a group one day and bought them all back. It would be prescient.
Consumers send in their labels for a Warhol
According to a letter in his archives, a product marketing executive wrote to Warhol: “Your work has generated a lot of interest here at the Campbell soup company.” A few crates of tomato soup, supposedly the artist’s favourite, were sent to his home in New York in thanks.
The manager even obliquely alluded to an exchange: “I had hoped to be able to acquire one of your soup boards Campbell can label – but I fear you have become far too expensive for me”, he said. writing. There is no documentation of him getting free soup art as a result. But Beth Jolly, Campbell’s vice president of food and beverage communications, noted that the company ended up ordering one for a board member who was retiring that same year.
In 1966, the partnership became official. Campbell invited consumers to send in a few can labels and $1.00 in exchange for a paper dress designed by Warhol. The promotion was a success. The dress now sells for around $20,000 in art galleries and online and is part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute.
But Campbell still wasn’t convinced that his can paintings were art.
In 1970, when auction house Sotheby’s held its first-ever sale of contemporary art, it featured a “Can with Chipped Label” by Warhol with a suggested starting bid of $20,000.
The auction house contacted Campbell and the Dorrance family to see if they were interested in buying, but “I was told they showed no interest,” says David Nash, who worked on this first sale and eventually became responsible for impressionist and modern art at the auctioneer.
(Ironically, Nash continued to do a lot of business with the family: in 1989 he oversaw John T. Dorrance, Jr.’s estate sale of artwork and furniture. Filled with Picassos and Matisses, but still no Warhol, he raised $124 million and broke the then-record for a collection.)
During this time, Warhol proved to be very loyal to the mark – he did not stray from Lipton, although he did do Coca-Cola bottle art – and the cans and cans of soup Campbell made regular appearances in his productions and in his interviews and the 1980s MTV show.
It helped the value of the soup artwork that it became an extremely popular print series and had two opposing interpretations by critics.
Some argued that the work was a harsh but intelligent critique of mass production, even capitalism, while others saw it as a more comforting wall of soup, more about America and the options and prosperity after -war.
In 1996, Blum sold the original set of 32 boxed paintings to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in a $15 million partial/giveaway sale. (The auction record for any Warhol is $195 million, set earlier this year for “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn.”)
In 2012, the soup company released a “limited edition” promotional series of soup cans featuring Warhol’s rendition of the company’s labels in different colors. He was also the education and event sponsor of the Met Museum’s “Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” exhibition.
Today, the company has a can of soup hanging at its headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, Jolly said, and continues to work with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in charitable projects and, most recently, on hoodies and other licensed apparel.
But the Warhol domain has not escaped all the trademark battles.
And while the Warhol Foundation has argued, almost always successfully in lower courts, that Warhol’s use of work is “transformative,” the case has big implications for artists who draw on or appropriate pre-existing images.