Everybody knows the tomato soup can made by Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE: CPB) of Camden, N.J. Andy Warhol's painting of the can is an iconic portrait that was the foundation of the pop art movement that revolutionized the art world. It was also the centerpiece of a marketing campaign that still lives in the annals of brilliant synergizing of art forms.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Warhol painting, those art lovers at Target (NYSE: TGT) decided to do their part. This week, they began selling a special edition of 1.2 million Warhol soup can paintings for 75 cents apiece -- a lot less than the $10 million the original fetched at Christie's auction house last November.
In the 1960s, art critics hailed Warhol as a genius for being the first to see artistic value in a tin can with a label. As much as one can admire his originality and vision, it was a shock to learn that he was actually the second.
Less is known about the painting titled "Heinz 57" -- a 72x60-inch painting by Robert Cenedella, featuring a Heinz Tomato Soup can, one of the 57 varieties of the H.J. Heinz Co. (NYSE: HNZ) of Pittsburgh.
A contemporary of Warhol's, Cenedella's "Heinz" is artistically significant because it was painted before the other more famous soup can. Thus, the Warhol work could be seen as derivative and be identified in the next Christie's auction catalogue as "in the manner of Cenedella." There are those who think Warhol was actually inspired by Cenedella's painting.
Contemporaries, Warhol and Cenedella often debated tomato soups at the Broom Street Bar in Soho.
Four months before Warhol's "Campbell Soup Cans," Cenedella argued with Warhol's selection of the Campbell product to glorify the impact of commerce on art. Cenedella believed a Heinz Tomato Soup can would be "the ultimate affirmative statement of art today."
Outraged by Warhol's dedication to Campbell Soup, Cenedella went back to his studio and painted his Heinz can while Warhol was otherwise occupied with his busy schedule of partying and drugs.
Warhol, it is said, personally disliked Campbell's tomato soup, and soup in general. The distaste is reflected in the final work.
Without meaning to have a definitive discussion of artistic creation here, it as if all Andy did was walk into the studio and put his name on it: "This is my painting." The Warhol is not an interpretation of canned soup, nor did he put anything of himself into it -- soul, if you will. It is merely a reproduction.
Comparatively, the Cenedella is high art. It has the feel of emotion, intensity. One can even smell the soup.
In fact, Cenedella loves Heinz tomato soup. I can understand why. It tastes better. Unlike Campbell's, a condensed soup (just add a cup of water), the Heinz is all-real tomato.
The painting is better. The soup is better. The only thing better about Warhol's tomato soup was the marketing campaign. The folks in Camden understood the value of the Warhol in terms of moving cans off the shelf. Campbell's saw the synergistic value in becoming a patron of the arts. When you think tomato soup today, you think Campbell's.
While they were at it, perhaps unknowingly, Campbell marketing people were doing a magnificent job manipulating the art establishment into taking soup art seriously. They did not see the satirical nature that was implicit in both Warhol and Cenedella's battling soup can visions.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, ignoring Heinz's past tradition of supporting the arts to its own advantage, it was blowing the opportunity to challenge Campbell's in the soup art field. While the Heinz people kicked the can around, marketing-wise, for the last 50 years on the Cenedella portrait, Heinz Tomato Soup, a household favorite in the United States since 1897, quietly disappeared from our shelves, leaving the tomato soup market to its condensed version rival.
Despite the bungling in the US market, the old, original, better tasting Heinz Tomato Soup remains a huge best seller in the UK.
All of which is something I will be thinking about while I rush out to become the first person on my block in New Jersey to own a genuine, original, special edition Warhol from Target.