Like a word repeated too many times in succession, Andy Warhol’s exploration of mass-produced icons shook sturdy foundations and put a new spin on an old world. He was a master of estranging the familiar, of estranging everything.
Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ premiered 50 years ago on Sunday, effectively introducing the newfound pop art scene to the west coast from the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles. The series is iconic of what a Warhol does to a viewer: love it or hate it, his work rarely escapes strong reaction.
Warhol’s background in graphic and product design strongly shaped his work. Whether it was cans, bottles, or a media icon’s face, he playfully instigated dialogue on aesthetic, expression, and commoditisation through repetitions of what we might come across several times a day in the real world.
Street art has been pushing the bounds of artistic license even within the experimental realm of modern pop art. From the 1970s graffiti movements of New York City this practice has developed into a debate about artistic license – and created a commodity in high demand.
Debates over graffiti’s classification as art or vandalism have come up again and again, especially around the works of the infamous and mysterious Banksy. This has created an uncomfortable boundary between art and vandalism that decides a works fate based on the quality of the work.
Designated graffiti areas and licenses for artists have begun to crop up. The documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ brought discussion about the contested medium into the spotlight. It seems that what was subversive is slowly becoming legal, at least in the right places.
It looks like the next set of soup cans have as good a chance of being sprayed onto old bricks and concrete as they do on canvas. Warhol probably would have got a kick out of that.