‘Everything is art'
Country Life UK|May 20, 2020
With his focus on consumerism, celebrity and counter-culture, Andy Warhol (1928–87) helped to create today’s world. Michael Murray- Fennell considers the influential Pop artist
Michael Murray-Fennell

GROWING up in poverty in an Eastern European community in 1930s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andrew Warhola lived on a thin soup of water, salt, pepper and ketchup. ‘What I used to dream about,’ he later recalled, ‘was having a glass of fresh orange juice and a bathroom of my own.’

In 1962, in a nod to those dreams, Andy Warhol—as he was known by then—painted 32 Campbell’s Soup cans, each representing a different flavour, from asparagus to vegetable (as well as tomato). A Los Angeles gallery presented these paintings as bona fide works of art, on the same level as Old Masters and living Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who were then the critics’ darlings. Many derided the show; a neighbouring gallery stocked some of the real soup cans and carried a sign in its window: ‘Do Not Be Misled. Get the Original.’

Yet Warhol’s point was a serious one: the consumer household goods of America were as valid a subject for art as any and could be simultaneously celebrated and critiqued. In blurring the distinction between art and life, he had inherited the mantle of Marcel Duchamp, whose readymade​ sculpture of a signed urinal had caused such a stir in 1917.

Warhol began in the 1950s as a successful New York-based fashion illustrator for magazines—‘the go-to guy for footwear’—but his reputation is built firmly on his Pop Art work of the 1960s, for which his earlier training in graphic design was the perfect preparation. He preferred the term Commonism to Pop Art—‘the art of giving the familiar a supra-familiarity’.

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