May 10, 2006

The painting "registers the passage of time and conveys a preoccupation with degradation, exuding destruction and frailty."

That's the art dealer's description of Andy Warhol's "Small Torn Campbell's Soup Can (Pepper Pot)," which just sold for $11.8 million.




So do we like the torn label soup can better than the untorn soup cans in more familiar Warhol paintings? Does it draw us into deep thoughts about degradation, destruction, and frailty? And why pepper pot, rather than the more familiar tomato or chicken noodle? If the torn can drags us into thoughts of death, then pepper pot... oh my God! We're going to Hell!

48 comments:

David said...

When people buy soup they usually buy two cans of the same soup. If you have ever had pepper pot soup, this is what you do to the second can you purchased after the initial tasting.

Look at the salt/fat content then consider what this soup does to your health.

WV - oeohfp
The sounds you make after you eat pepper pot soup.

Henry said...

Why not give the piece to Robert Rauschenberg and let him tear it up. In the spirit of his erased DeKooning. A torn Warhol would be more arresting than a torn soup label.

jeff said...

I've never even heard of Pepper Pot flavor soup...

Palladian said...

Beautiful, I've always loved this painting. It's funny, because I think so much of Warhol's work is quite funereal, in the same tradition as the elegant, impeccable memento mori of the Flemish "Vanitas" still lives. Both those paintings and Warhol's (especially all his commissioned portraits) flattered the wealthy collectors and gave them a beautiful status object, and served as a reminder of the oblivion that awaited them and their wealth. This soup can is weird because it's much more obvious a portrayal of perfection (the clean, beautiful graphic label of the soup can) torn asunder, the base metal like bones lying under the attractive flesh.

CB said...

I've never heard of this soup either. This is the only pepperpot I'm familiar with.

Bissage said...

"Cream of Mushroom" would have brought another $750,000.

It's all about the casserole.

Seven Machos said...

The interesting thing about it is how bad and unrealistic the soup can itself it looks. It's a weird dynamic because the label seems to be made to look realistic but the underlying can looks like Andy just didn't know how to paint or didn't care to show the reality under the label.

Joe said...

There's a sucker born every minute I guess.

Bissage said...

"Ceci n'est pas une soup├žon"

HD_Wanderer said...

I thought at first someone had vandalized one of his other paintings. I like this one better. The others are just odd, this one is actually a little clever.

MadisonMan said...

The things you can find online:

Fat content of Pepper Pot soup (a beef broth with tomatoes, potatoes and pasta and sweet peppers): 5 g per serving (2 of that is saturated fat). Sodium is 1.02 g per serving, or 1020 mg, 43% of your rda. On the healthy side: 20% of your Vitamin A.

Wickedpinto said...

Wasn't his big thing pop culture? So he would depict chicken noodle soup in a gleaming light, because of it's popularity. Campbells soup was popular, and chicken noodle most popular, so he looked and he saw that even something as popular of Campbells produced something as unpopular as pepper pot.

Is it possible that the artist was using a less popular brand of soup to demonstrate his derision for pop culture while simultaneously praising it?

Not a big fan of most art, I'm all about "that's kinda cool" "thats kinda funny" or in the case of the mell blank memorial poster, which prolly doesn't count as high art "thats kinda touching."

But theres opinions flying, I figured I would toss in mine.

Icepick said...

If the torn can drags us into thoughts of death, then pepper pot... oh my God! We're going to Hell!

HA! That's brilliant! Thanks for the laugh, Ann!

Gaius Arbo said...

Frankly art has been in decline for years. Warhol wasn't even the worst of the lot in that time period.

Ann Althouse said...

Art was so thoroughly amusing and at the center of the culture back when Andy was painting his soup cans. There were all the Abstract Expressionists, then the Pop Art challenge, and the next thing you know there was Op Art. It was quite exciting. Nothing since then has been any fun at all, really.

(Please read that paragraph as another expression of my irritation with myself for going to art school.)

Tibore said...

"The painting "registers the passage of time and conveys a preoccupation with degradation, exuding destruction and frailty.""

?

The quote registers the superciliousness of the dealer and conveys a preoccupation with prolixity, exuding pomposity and pretension.

Harkonnendog said...

The painting "is an exercise in psychology. It poses the question- can a rich person be stupid, and futher, how stupid can rich people be?"

Palladian said...

Predictable comments, I suppose. People mocking the art, Ann trashing (yet again) art school.

Yet why is purchasing a beautiful (and resaleable) painting any more foolish than buying anything else? People spend millions of dollars on all sorts of less interesting and less enduring garbage. Think of how much (of our) money the government wastes. Think of how much money Kennedys spend on defense counsel for driving infractions.

Henry said...

Please read that paragraph as another expression of my irritation with myself for going to art school

Oh, thanks. I went to Art School in the '80s when Art was really pointless. However, consider this comment by Freakonomics stars Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Luckily for me, the Internet came along and gave us art graduates good-paying jobs without going to law school.

I really like Warhol, just in case my earlier comment sounded excessively cynical. One of the best comments on Warhol I've heard concerned a retrospective in which the reviewer said something like "this guy worked hard."

Warhol is like the art version of Truman Capote. Really weird, but really good.

I still think there's something very ironic about a painting of a torn soup can label that has to be interpreted in the context of a painting of a pristine soup can label. Rauschenberg was a little more direct.

Ann Althouse said...

I really like Warhol too. He's just one more reason the 60s were so much more vivid than all the other decades. (I'll never get over it.)

Maxine Weiss said...

And, if it were(was?) Thomas Kincaide, you'd have nothing but scorn for Kincaide fans who spend thousands for his paintings.

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

Palladian: Don't take it personally. I know nothing of art school today. I went to art school in 1970 -- with a very foolish hippie attitude. My real complaint is that they let me get away with it. And that there was no rigorous training whatsoever. And it was an openly sexist place.

SippicanCottage said...
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Johnny Nucleo said...

That quote is intriguing, but wrong.

The label is weak, the steel strong.

From whom did men steal the secret of steel?

Crom.

How do you like my poetry!

The thing about artists like Warhol is that they may have cool imaginations, but they lack technique. Artists without technique - unless they are geniuses - and I'm not sure Warhol qualifies - kinda suck.

Palladian said...

Technique? What are you talking about?

Warhol's "technique" was impeccable, perfectly refined and perfectly suited to the work he was producing. He wasn't, after all, making oil portraits in the 17th century manner or producing gilt altarpieces or frescos, so I don't see how you can compare his "technique" with other techniques for producing paintings. Titian couldn't have done Warhol's paintings as well as Warhol did.

Henry said...

Johnny, take a look at Warhol's commercial work sometime. He had real chops.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Something tells me I'm about to get my ass kicked, but what the hell.

Didn't he just silk-screen stuff? How long does it take to learn the technical skills he needed to do what he did? More than a year? More than five?

What do you think is harder: Warhol stuff or that Titan guy you mentioned?

What is more impressive, more obviously good: a classical violinist or a turntable guy?

Let's say Warhol was a genius. Why did he limit himself so? Here's my theory: He was either lazy or he kinda sucked.

Miles Davis wasn't lazy. But - stay with me now - he kinda sucked. He just couldn't do what everyone else was doing. He lacked the technical skill. But he did something else, something better - or at least equal. Miles Davis was a genius. But Andy Warhol? Eh. And I promise you Miles worked much harder on technique than Warhol.

Did Warhol even draw? I honestly don't know. Why google. I have this place.

But with guys like Warhol it all seems like one big piss on the carpet joke.

Maybe Warhol was a genius. We'll know in a thousand years. Here's a bet: If a thousand years from now, Warhol is declared a genius, I'll give you one million dollars.

Palladian said...

Warhol's work covered a tremendous range of processes, styles and media, including a large body of graphic work and of course his commercial work that Henry mentions. Some of his paintings are partially silkscreened, some not. But who cares? Michelangelo used gridded copying techniques to scale up his drawings for the Sistine Chapel frescos. Vermeer (and many other artists of his time) used perspectival frames and camera obscuras. Van Dyck (and many, many other artists) had assistants paint anywhere from 25-100% of some of their paintings. Does this knowledge of their "techniques" diminish the greatness of their work? Would you really argue that Warhol's paintings are nothing more than the sum total of the complexity of their process of creation? Would you pass the same judgment on Rembrandt (an artist excoriated in his own time for poor technique)? Do you hold it against Leonardo Da Vinci that his oil fresco technique for "The Last Supper" was so poor that the painting is basically completely destroyed? I'm not saying that Warhol is a "better" artist than Titian or anybody else; I think such comparisons are meaningless anyway. What I'm saying is that, in the context of his time and in the context of his work, his art perfectly, beautifully, frighteningly resonated, as did the work of Titian in his time and Hans Holbein in his time and Manet in his time and Picasso in his. I could make value judgments about all these artists, but that's not interesting to me. Warhol could never have painted a Titian. Titian could never have painted a Warhol.

Let's make a coarse comparison: sex. What if you have a partner that's a great, skilled sexual technician but doesn't like you and leaves right after it's all over? Sure, it feels good while it's happening, and you might be in awe of the technique that got you to the height of pleasure, but then they're gone and you're left feeling sated and empty. It feels good, but there's no love. As it is in art and life.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Palladian,

You're an expert and I respect your knowlege. But to people who aren't into art, the art of the second half of the 20th century is empty.

Palladian said...

" But to people who aren't into art, the art of the second half of the 20th century is empty."

Seems a rather broad generalization.

I would suggest that people who aren't into art (of one sort or another) are rather empty themselves.

knoxgirl said...

Now Palladian, why'd you have to go there...

MadisonMan said...

But to people who aren't into art, the art of the second half of the 20th century is empty.

I disagree, and for my defense I give you Andrew Wyeth. Wind from the Sea is just my all-time favorite painting. Okay, so it's from 1948, so technically not the 2nd half of the 1900s. But close!

I saw a retrospective on Wyeth at the High in Atlanta this year, and it was just amazing.

Henry said...

But to people who aren't into art, the art of the second half of the 20th century is empty

If you said that about the modernists, you might have an argument. But the pop artists are tons of fun. Pop art is hugely accessible and a profound visual source for contemporary designers. It's the impressionism of our time.

What do you think is harder: Warhol stuff or that Titian guy you mentioned?

For examples of Warhol's commercial work, go to Google and do an image search for Warhol shoe. You're not going to see old master type work, but you will see some incredibly fluid and creative drawing, a virtuosity that Warhol carried into his pop art.

He doesn't paint like Titian or Rembrandt, but the modern world has a different sensibility. Arguing that contemporary artists lack technique is like putting down Thelonious Monk for not using enough notes.

Simon said...
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Simon said...

I'm a philistine where this stuff is concerned. I've never understood what was so appealing about Warhol, his work, or that of most of his peers for that matter. Thus, I largely agree with Johnny, particularly the comment about twentieth century art being essentially masturbatory.

Simon said...

"He doesn't paint like Titian or Rembrandt, but the modern world has a different sensibility. Arguing that contemporary artists lack technique is like putting down Thelonious Monk for not using enough notes."

I don't think it is. I think that arguing that contemporary artists lack technique is like putting down Britney Spears for lacking any discernable talent. To be sure, what Britney does gives her some personal satisfaction, and it provides some entertainment to a few who are into that sort of thing, but it lacks any of the skill, artistry or intrinsic value of, say, The White Album or Dark Side of the Moon (neither of which feature incredible chops). Technique isn't everything, which is precisely what has killed Dream Theater, for those counting; it cannot replace artistry, and without creativity, technique is sterile. But on the other hand, creativity has to be served by sufficient technique to execute it. There has to be a balance.

AlaskaJack said...

The difference between artists like Titian, Fra Angelico, Botticelli and Warhol is that the works of the former were understood and appreciated by the general population, most of whom were illiterate. Warhol, by contrast, is appreciated only by a relatively small group of elites who have convinced themselves that phrases like "... a preoccupation with degradation", "...exuding destruction and frailty" and "...frighteningly resonated" express something very profound.

The average person treats him as a joke. In 300 years, people will still marvel at Botticelli et al but Warhol will be lucky to survive as a footnote if at all.

But hey, you gotta admire his street smarts. He got someone to pay millions of dollars for a sketch of a soup can.

Sean E said...

"Does it draw us into deep thoughts about degradation, destruction, and frailty?"

It draws me into snotty speculation about overrated, overpriced and how the hell did this guy get so famous? $11.8 million? You could get Keith Moon's head for less than half of that.

Warhol's work always reminded me of the posters I'd buy for $8.95 and tack to my apartment walls in college.

But then, I'm not "into art", so I must be dead inside.

Henry said...

Warhol's work always reminded me of the posters I'd buy for $8.95 and tack to my apartment walls in college.

Right on! That's exactly the point. Pop artists are creating art in the immediate, graphic style of our time. That doesn't make them better or worse than old masters, just different.

The general population in 16th century Venice was probably saying, "I don't know why what the big deal with Titian is; his paintings look just like the stuff I see in church for free."

When news circulated about the cost of the Sistine chapel ceiling, I can imagine some Roman merchant saying, "They paid WHAT for that ceiling? To a guy who's not even a painter???"

Palladian said...

The difference between artists like Titian, Fra Angelico, Botticelli and Warhol is that the works of the former were understood and appreciated by the general population, most of whom were illiterate.

Not true. Very, very few of the "general population" in the times of the artists you mention (especially Titian and Botticelli) ever even saw works of art, and certainly artists like Botticelli and Pontormo and Holbein, to name but a few, were (purposely) using allegorical schemes that could only have been interpreted by the wealthy, highly educated clients who commissioned them.

It's a popular misconception that religious art of the middle ages was made to teach religious ideas to the illiterate masses. To an extent this is true with large-scale works for churches, like frescos or the statuary and architecture of Romanesque and Gothic (and later) cathedrals, but most of the smaller scale works that survive from those periods was produced for the nobility and the rich, for private chapels and devotion. Even forms of painting like large freestanding altarpieces wouldn't have been truly visible to most of the people in a church, as the altar was far away and behind a huge fence. Or take the example of medieval illumination which, by its nature and scale, was certainly not for mass consumption. Only monks, priests, scholars and a few nobles (who commissioned "books of Hours") ever saw those glowing, meticulous pages.

As art became more secular around the time of the European Renaissance, it became even less accessible to the "general public", almost the sole province of the rich, the noble, the "elites". Painters like Van Dyck, Reubens, and Titian were churning out works that went straight into the palaces and palazzi without ever passing by the retinas of the "general population". Even paintings that we view now as great and famous were virtually unknown to anyone except the elite (and other artists) right up until the later 19th century. These enduring works were not made with people like us in mind.

"Warhol, by contrast, is appreciated only by a relatively small group of elites who have convinced themselves that phrases like "... a preoccupation with degradation", "...exuding destruction and frailty" and "...frighteningly resonated" express something very profound."

Again, not true. Warhol has a vast and enduring popular appeal, as evinced by the ubiquity of reproductions of his work in many forms and the great influence of his style on graphic design and commercial art. Warhol is much more famous (and liked and understood by the "non-elites") than Titian or Fra Angelico ever were or ever will be. Maybe in the sense that some people can look at a Titian or a Fra Angelico painting and say "that looks real" or "that looks hard to do" or "that looks like real art", but such statements in no way constitute any "appreciation" for what those artist's works mean; in fact, I think "appreciating" those great master's works on such a base level is a profound insult.

What Warhol did, paint the icons, the rich, the powerful, the mythic of his time, is essentially the same thing that Western artists have been doing for centuries. I don't see how you can look at a great Warhol painting and not see the continuity of (and respect for) that great tradition. (By the way, the Met Museum recently bought that Duccio painting in the last link for in excess of 45 million dollars. It's the size of a sheet of Xerox paper. Are they fools? Crazy elites?)

"The average person treats him as a joke. In 300 years, people will still marvel at Botticelli et al but Warhol will be lucky to survive as a footnote if at all."

Who cares?

"But hey, you gotta admire his street smarts. He got someone to pay millions of dollars for a sketch of a soup can."

No, he got Irving Blum to pay probably 500 dollars for that painting back in the sixties. Whatever it makes now on the auction block hardly matters now, especially to Warhol, who's been dead for almost 20 years.

"Warhol's work always reminded me of the posters I'd buy for $8.95 and tack to my apartment walls in college."

Probably because a lot of those posters that people buy and tack to their apartment walls in college are posters of Warhol's paintings. I think he'd be quite pleased with this characterization.

Ann Althouse said...

"Warhol, by contrast, is appreciated only by a relatively small group of elites..."

I disagree. I think of all the artists that have been around in the last half century, he's the one that ordinary people had some feeling for and paid attention to. Back in the 60s, he was part of the ethos that everyone connected with (some negatively, of course). I had a big poster of Andy Warhol on my wall when I was a teenager. Warhol means something in the culture. Few artists do.

Ann Althouse said...

"The average person treats him as a joke"

I think the greatest things often start out looking like a joke. I remember thinking of The Ramones as a joke. But, in fact, The Ramones were the most serious statement about art that could possibly have been made. And the music of the time that looked like art is now so obviously execrable.

Simon said...

"in fact, The Ramones were the most serious statement about art that could possibly have been made."

Wha...? What the hell was the statement supposed to be? It always seemed to me that the Ramones were just another painfully dull punk band, an integral component of a movement which ultimately pedestrianized and de-intellectualized music. Punk would have merely been amusing if it had brought down glam, but did it have to take prog with it?

Sean E said...

"I had a big poster of Andy Warhol on my wall when I was a teenager."

Was that the one from Tiger Beat magazine? Warhol is dreamy, sure, but I bet Shaun Cassidy is a better kisser.

SippicanCottage said...
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Johnny Nucleo said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Sippican. Obviously I don't know what I'm talking about. But who cares! This is the Internet!

Palladian's outrage is justified. This is his field, and I shat on it because I needed something to book-end my poem about Crom.

But I still say, to all you young artists out there, whatever be your art: Technique, technique, technique! Master the rules. Making good art isn't easy, unless you're a genius, which you aren't. Master the rules. Then trash them.

Wickedpinto said...

The label is weak, the steel strong.

From whom did men steal the secret of steel?

Crom.


Is that a Conan Reference? I hope so cuz I laughed.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Of course!

Conan The Barbarian is one of the greatest bad movies of all time. It has some really great lines.

John Milius is a so-so director, but he's a great screenwriter. His writing is unapologetically mytho-poetic macho. Very old-school. He wrote the screenplay for Apocolypse Now. But Coppola hated the ending and changed it to the flat ending we all know. Milius' ending is at once cool and hilarious. Watch Milius read his ending in the documentary Hearts of Darkness. You can tell he just loves it.