Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Mouse Pad
Just a Capitalist Illusion
Commemorating Andy Warhol
By Joan Altabe


Coming soon to a post office near you: an Andy Warhol postage stamp. Hail to the patron saint of pap, whose art has all the spirit of an engineering specification. He’s the sixth artist to be commemorated on a stamp. The others are Louise Nevelson, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock. Warhol is the questionable choice.

A 1964 self-portrait from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is scheduled for release sometime in 2002 with his signature wig and bloodless complexion missing. But his face like stone is there: the blank-television stare, along with the obstinate mouth that never seems to have known a smile. I wouldn’t ordinarily mention a person’s appearance, but Warhol’s signals his art.

In the Biennial 2000 at the Pennsylvanian Academy of the Fine Arts, curator Jonathan Binstock called Warhol "a passionate social observer," not vacuous and superficial at all. Yeah, right. It’s worth repeating here how this big cheese of soup cans (he painted more than 100 of them) got his idea to paint them—or rather how he got someone else’s idea to paint them. Interior designer Muriel Latow deserves the credit, provided you think that paintings of soup cans over and over ad nauseum is deserving of any.

You can see Latow’s part in the soup can paintings in Victor Bockris’ biography, Warhol, published in London in 1989.

Warhol: "I’ve got to do something that will have a lot of impact, that will be different from Lichtenstein and Rosenquist (Pop artists who hit it big before he did). I don’t know what to do! Muriel, you’ve got fabulous ideas. Can’t you give me an idea?"

Muriel: "What do you like most in the whole world?"

Warhol: "I don’t know. What do I like most in the whole world?"

Muriel: "You should paint something that everybody sees every day, that everybody recognizes, like a can of soup."

So he did, again and again in mechanical reproduction with photographic enlargements that he silkscreened onto canvas. This handy Andy artist of slickness, of shallowness, made wallpaper pattern reproductions of soup cans, and glorified their banal sameness.

100 Campbell's Soup Cans 1962

Which makes a second piece of Warhol news more understandable than the one about a commemorative stamp. The Warhol Foundation just made a deal with the Beanstalk Group to license Warhol-brand products, which include wallpaper. Perfect match, that. Warhol equated his wallpaper-like soup can paintings with Jackie Kennedy in bloodied pillbox hat. He made wallpaper-like copies of her, too. And in the repetition, he numbed our perception.

The Van Gogh Foundation also has signed on for sweet deals, but unlike the Warhol Foundation funny business, this one has nothing to do with the artist or his art. Case in pointlessness: an outdoor Vincent Village in Amsterdam, Holland full of boutiques, where you can buy everything from perfumes to a wine called Vincent Extra Brut Cava.

Gordon Gekko lives. Remember him in the film Wall Street? He’s the one who called art "just a capitalist illusion." You might call Warhol the poster boy for the putdown.

Warhol said it himself in the exhibit notes for his first retrospective show, which was held in Stockholm in 1968: "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings... and there I am. There’s nothing behind it."

This museless master of the mundane, this impersonal, poker-faced pop artist was our Chauncy Gardiner of Being There movie fame, who liked to watch life, not live it, who was credited with an intellect he didn’t have.

As I said, he doesn’t deserve to be commemorated.