Campbell’s Soup I: Cream of Mushroom 53 by Andy Warhol is one of ten screenprints from his 1968 Campbell’s Soup I portfolio. The print itself is very straightforward in its design, color, and symmetrical shape. As a concept, the print reflects Warhol’s fascination with mass-production and the culture of advertisement. Created six years after Warhol’s original paintings of the soups, the portfolio draws directly from his most groundbreaking work. The series is amongst his most valuable portfolios of all time.
In 1962, Andy shocked the public with his original soup can paintings, 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans, which debuted at the Ferus gallery in Los Angeles. It was his first solo exhibit, and the work’s objectivity and purely commercial subject matter surprised the audience. At the time, abstraction and emotional style dominated the art world. Consequently, Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans were met with varying reviews. Many artists and critics were off-put by the cold hard style, and felt the work lacked typical painterly details and interpretational depth. Decades later, the paintings remain some of the most significant images in the history of modern art.
As a pioneer of the pop-art movement, Warhol elevated familiar objects and images to celebrity status. He famously said “I don’t think art should be only for the select few. I think it should be for the mass of the American people”. Warhol had a particular interest in commerce and mass-produced products. This can be seen in his Ads series, for example. For Warhol, what most people see as mundane objects are actually a wealthy source of inspiration and beauty. Mainly, he saw ordinary commercial products like Coca-Cola, Life Savers, and Campbell’s Soup as fascinating products of human achievement. No matter where you go, they remain the same. No one can buy a better Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup than you. And nothing can make your Coke better than anyone else’s.
It is likely that people will always debate the artistic value of Warhol’s soup cans, just as they did in 1962. However, the impact he made on the culture of art is undeniable. With the soup cans, Warhol sought to challenge common perceptions of art and rethink the concept of artistic value. Specifically, the work deviated from historically accepted artistic subject matter. For Warhol, these subjects were outdated, and focusing on them meant ignoring the splendor of the current historical moment. Instead, he asked what was really authentic and important to the present culture. He saw things like mass-production, factories, and the fruits of industrial society as the most direct reflection of contemporary human life. Ubiquitous objects were not boring to him, but famous, just like celebrities.
As a result, Warhol’s work offers a new interpretation of the everyday objects that surround us, and a refreshing view of art itself. Thus, Campbell’s Soup I: Cream of Mushroom 53 and similar works are conceptual hallmarks of modern art, and allow us to rethink the boundaries of artistic legitimacy.