|Digital Image / The Museum of Modern Art|
Why did Andy Warhol paint pictures of Campbell's soup cans?
Why not, say, cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli? Or B&M baked beans? Why not Alpo, one of the first commercially available canned dog foods? Alpo was manufactured in Allentown, Pa., across the state from Pittsburgh, Warhol's hometown.
Supermarkets stocked lots of canned goods, circa 1960. Any one of them could have signified the ubiquity of commercial imagery in contemporary American life. Any one of them could epitomize modern mass production at its most banal. Those are the usual reasons given for Warhol's full-bore move into Pop imagery, which began in 1961-62 with "Campbell's Soup Cans."
This weekend marks the 49th anniversary of their controversial public debut. Warhol's renowned suite of 32 small canvases was shown for the first time at a Los Angeles gallery, the only gallery willing to take a chance on the virtually unknown New York artist. The mundane commercial subject matter bewildered an art world more used to avant-garde abstraction, not to mention a public already skeptical of Modern art. Bemused, a neighboring gallery stacked a pyramid of actual soup cans in its window, along with a sign that boasted, "Get the real thing for only 29 cents a can."