Soup? Art? the Quandary Thickens
Talk about coming full circle. Beginning Sunday, most Target stores will be selling special-edition cans of Campbellâs Tomato Soup featuring colorful labels that evoke the work of Andy Warhol.
For Trudy the Bag Lady, the Lily Tomlin character who attempted to define the difference between soup and art, life has just gotten considerably more complicated.
Warholâs now-iconic paintings of Campbellâs soup cans in the 1960s brought the imagery of mass marketing into museums and art galleries. They were, on one level, a critique of our consumer culture, but a sly one: Warhol wasnât condemning the advertising imagery that was all around us, but he was insisting we pay attention to it.
As Neil Gabler put it in his thoughtful 1998 book Life: The Movie, Warhol struck a âdeep cultural chordâ by âacknowledging that popular culture had prevailed over high culture, and that its junk, which was the subject of his paintings, now occupied the resonant center of American life.â
So what does it say that a mass-market company (which, according to its in-house historian, had a surprisingly cordial relationship with Warhol) is bringing visual flair to the canned-food aisle? Has the difference between the Tate Modern and the Target Midtown been completely obliterated?
Some intriguing answers can be found in a 2006 essay on âthe aestheticization of consumption,â published in the journal Marketing Theory (a must-read for all fans of modern art). Isabelle Szmigin of the Birmingham Business School argues that the post-Warhol era has seen a âconvergence of art and consumptionâ in which âso-called high art and graphic design can be melded in new and innovative ways, acceptable to the market and willingly integrated into it.â