Campbell’s Soup Cans I: Consommé 52 is a print by Andy Warhol published in 1968. It is one of ten screenprints included in his Campbell’s Soup Cans I portfolio, which depicts ten flavors of Campbell’s Soup. Warhol originally painted the soups in his 1962 work, 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans. Six years later, he returned to the concept using the silkscreen technique, which allowed him to create an even closer replication of Campbell’s original product. The following year, Warhol created Campbell’s Soup Cans II, another portfolio of ten soup cans. In the second portfolio, Warhol added his own illustrations, giving the soups a more artistic flair.
When Warhol debuted the original soups in 1962 at the Ferus gallery in Los Angeles, the exhibit received mixed reviews. It resembled a grocery store aisle, and the images shocked many artists and critics. The exhibit, which audaciously showcased a simple commercial product, offended some audiences. Moreover, critics thought the subject matter of Warhol’s show was overtly materialistic, and lacked artistic merit and artistic depth. However, the legendary soup cans do not lend themselves to a formalist interpretation, as many art lovers of the time were used to. Campbell’s Soup Cans I: Consommé 52 and similar images are rich in a conceptual sense, and highlight Warhol’s ability to break the mold of his time.
Along with series like Marilyn and Flowers, the soup cans are some of Warhol’s most recognizable work. First created in the early 1960s, they were instrumental in the emergence of the Pop Art movement. Their success lies in how the soups disrupted common artistic themes, as well as Warhol’s idiosyncratic philosophy behind them. Fascinated by everyday consumer items, Warhol found inspiration in the simple inventions of modern industry. He also became seemingly obsessed with the concept of repetition, reflecting the mass-production of identical goods in his artwork. But at the time, abstract expressionism was the ruling art style. Masterminds of high art took inspiration from concepts like natural beauty, emotion, and human struggle.
Warhol saw things differently. For him, things like industrial society, consumerism, and mass-production closely reflected human life. He believed that these themes held legitimate artistic value, and felt that other artists (and non-artists) overlooked them. This same trend is present in his Ads series from 1985, as well as his various images of Coke.
By exhibiting the soup cans, Warhol urges us to redirect our attention, and to notice the art that surrounds us in unexpected venues of our life. As a pioneer of Pop Art, Warhol performed a common motif. By separating something from its original environment, and placing it in a new context, the subject takes on a new life. Warhol is thus experimenting with the context of art, and he persuades us to pay closer attention. By doing this, perhaps Warhol wanted us to ask, “why is this not art?”.
In this way, the soup cans greatly disrupted the status-quo of art. Ultimately, the soup cans are a quintessential illustration of Warhol’s philosophy, and they challenged common perceptions of artistic value. They have become a mighty hallmark of modern art history, and helped the pop-art genre transcend the underground and realize its place in the realm of fine art. Campbell’s Soup Cans I: Consommé 52 is thus one of Warhol’s most important and beloved creations.