Shortly thereafter, the company sent a lawyer.
Campbell’s eventual partnership with the Warhol estate foreshadowed the fusion of high art, advertising, branding and fashion that is commonplace today.
A cease and desist order was considered. But in July 1962, John T. Dorrance, Jr., the son of the inventor of condensed soup, had just taken over as chairman. He was an avid art collector and established himself well in the art world. As criticism of the show grew, “Is this art?” – as well as publicity. For some reason, the company sued.
In addition, the exhibition at the gallery did not go well, with only five works selling for about $100 each, although one went to Hollywood star Dennis Hopper.
Warhol, born in 1928 in Pittsburgh to Slovak immigrant parents, was still better known as a commercial illustrator for shoe brands and department stores than as a fine artist. Gallery dealer Irving Bloom decided that someday the paintings would be worth more as a group and bought them all back. This would turn out to be prophetic.
Consumers send in their labels for Warhol
According to a letter in his archives, a product marketing manager wrote to Warhol: “Your work has generated a lot of interest here at the Campbell Soup Company.” Several crates of tomato soup, presumably favorite of the artist, as a token of gratitude, they sent him to his home in New York.
The manager even indirectly hinted at the deal: “I was hoping to purchase one of your paintings with labels on the Campbell soup cans, but I’m afraid you cost me too much,” he wrote. There is no documentation that he received free art from soup cans as a result. But Beth Jolly, Campbell’s vice president of food and beverage communications, noted that the same year, the company ended up ordering one for a retiring board member.
By 1966, the partnership became official. Campbell invited buyers to send a couple of labels and $1 in exchange for Warhol’s paper dress. The action was a success. The dress is currently selling for approximately $20,000 in art galleries and online, and is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Not for sale
But Campbell still didn’t quite believe that the pictures of his jars were art.
In 1970, when Sotheby’s held its first contemporary art sale, it featured Warhol’s “Peel-off Label Jar” with a suggested starting price of $20,000.
The auction house contacted Campbell and the Dorrance family to see if they were interested in buying, but “I was told they showed no interest,” says David Nash, who worked on that early sale and eventually became head of the Impressionist and contemporary art at the Museum of Impressionism and Modern Art. auctioneer.
(Ironically, Nash continued to do big business with the family: in 1989, he oversaw John T. Dorrance Jr.’s sale of fine art and furniture, which raised $124 million and broke the collection record at the time.)
Meanwhile, Warhol proved to be very loyal to the brand—he didn’t deviate from Lipton, though he did the art of Coca-Cola bottles—and Campbell’s soup cans and boxes appeared regularly in his productions, in his interviews, and on MTV shows in the 1980s. . .
The value of the soup works was helped by the fact that it became a hugely popular series of prints and had two conflicting interpretations by critics.
Some argued that the work was a sharp but reasonable critique of mass production, even capitalism, while others saw a more comforting soup wall, more about America, post-war options and prosperity.
In 1996, Blume sold an original set of 32 canned paintings to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in a $15 million partial sale/gift. (The auction record for any Warhol is $195 million, set earlier this year for Shot Sage Blue Marilyn.)
In 2012, a soup company released a promotional series of “limited edition” soup cans featuring Warhol’s interpretation of the company’s labels in various colors. He also acted as an education and event sponsor for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “About Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years”.
According to Jolly, a soup can painting hangs at the company’s headquarters in Camden, New Jersey today, and she continues to work with the Andy Warhol Visual Arts Foundation on philanthropic projects, and more recently on licensed hoodies and other clothes.
But the Warhol estate hasn’t escaped all the trademark battles.
And while the Warhol Foundation has argued, almost always successfully in the lower courts, that Warhol’s use of works is “transformative,” the case is of great importance to artists who draw inspiration from or fit into pre-existing images.