By Reagan Carraway:
The National Gallery of Australia had sticky soup on their hands on November 8 when two climate activists in Canberra, Australia redesigned Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup I portfolio (1968). The additions? Blue scribbles and glued palms. No damage was done to the physical works as they were covered in protective glass. Art vandalism is becoming an increasingly common method of protestation for environmental activists. A more recent incident in Milan involved Warhol’s painted BMW M1 covered in more flour than you’d find in a French bakery.
The climate protestors responsible for the Campbell’s Soup debacle are associated with the Stop Fossil Fuels Subsidies (SFFS) group petitioning support for the Australian government to cease fossil fuel subsidies. According to The Australia Institute, said subsidies dramatically increased by $1.3 billion between 2021 and 2022 to total $11.6 billion.
“We’re in a climate crisis emergency,” said one protestor. The SFFS organization reposted a video on Twitter of the protest with the caption “While Australians starve, Government pays $22,000 a minute to subsidize fossil fuels.”
In the same post, the activist group referred to the Warhol work beneath sticky hands as “Art depicting consumerism gone mad,” revealing a sometimes forgotten weight to Warhol’s friendly-looking Campbell’s soups. While he has always been known for his appetite for adored all-American images, Warhol’s (repetitive) creation of these works was also an address to a society hyper-focused on consumption. Consumer culture is ever-present in our world and its meaning and significance shifts from person to person. For the Stop Fossil Fuels Subsidies activists, it appears that Campbell’s Soup I represents a wave of desperation among many Australians for the fossil fuel industry to halt its dictation of government funds.
The National Gallery of Australia stated it “does not wish to promote these actions and has no further comment”, but the scene begs the question: What would Warhol think?