Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Locksley Shea Gallery, Minneapolis
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Drawings and Watercolors from Minnesota Private Collections, May 13 - June 13, 1971, no. 95, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Composed of a dense framework of considered graphite marks, Andy Warhol’s Soup Can introduces one of the most iconic motifs of Pop Art into wider popular consciousness, initiating Warhol’s enduring legacy within history of 20th century image making. Evincing his skills as a charismatic draughtsman, the work demonstrates the unwavering importance of drawing as a foundation of his wider oeuvre, a deeply personal practice that he would maintain throughout his career until his untimely passing in 1987. Taking a quotidian object and allegorizing its potent symbolism of mass consumer society, the present work illustrates Warhol’s transition from one of New York’s most prominent commercial illustrators to a fine artist of unprecedented influence. The collection history of this important drawing also provides insight into Warhol’s burgeoning presence beyond his famed Manhattan milieu. The drawing was acquired by Miles and Shirley Fiterman through Gordon Locksley and George Shea of Locksley Shea Gallery, an avant-garde enterprise in their native Minneapolis that provided a direct conduit between the city and the New York art scene. Locksley introduced the Fitermans to Warhol when he first visited Minneapolis in the 1960s, which inaugurated a long-lasting friendship. As one of the earliest works by Warhol in their extensive collection of seminal works, Soup Can illustrates the couple’s longstanding patronage of the artist, and its importance to Warhol as his star began to rise.

    While Warhol’s practice is defined by the range of media with which he engaged, from painting to film and installation, Soup Can demonstrates how his oeuvre was fundamentally rooted in the act of drawing. Here we see that the medium formed the basis of his engagement with some of his most important motifs. Graduating from Schenley High School in his native Pittsburgh, Warhol deployed exceptional talent as a visual artist even as a teenager, winning a prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Award. As a child he also displayed exceptional aptitude in his classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art, where he won several prizes for his drawings. The professionalization of his natural ability as an illustrator began when he was a college student at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he channeled his burgeoning talents as art director of the student art magazine, Cano. Illustrating a cover for the publication in 1948 and a full-page interior illustration in 1949, it was during these years that Warhol experimented with his signature blotted line technique that would catapult his career as one of the most in-demand commercial illustrators over the course of the 1950s. Foreshadowing his iconic silkscreen paintings and the introduction of mechanical techniques into the arena of fine art, Warhol’s blotted line method combined both drawing and basic printing. Sketching elegant line drawings on tracing paper, Warhol would go over certain lines with fountain pen and then blot a second more absorbent paper on top to create beautifully broken lines. The production style allowed him to quickly produce multiple options for clients when composing advertisement ideas. This experience gave Warhol crucial insight into the mass mediation of images and their influence on the American psyche.

    However, as Warhol strove to make the transition into the area of fine art, he abandoned the whimsical flourishes of his illustrative works in search of a precise realism that offered a new and timely perspective on consumer society. As an exemplary drawing that witnesses the final stages of this transition, Soup Can is composed of sketched lines that clearly demarcate the subject and provide it with monumentality, while softly imbuing it with frenetic energy through delicate cross-hatching. As such, the work shows both the making of a defining moment in art history as well as the artist’s personal reverence for one of his everyday icons.

    Sketched as a pensive exercise and master drawing in its own right, Soup Can stages a rebellion against the elaborate conventions of the still life genre. Seemingly floating in an abstract space, Warhol elevates the common food item to icon status by privileging its unique and arresting visual properties. Warhol takes this a step further, however, by deconstructing a familiar image before our very eyes. As noted by the influential literary theorist and semiotician Roland Barthes, “What Pop art wants is to desymbolize the object, to give it the obtuse and matte stubbornness of a fact" (Roland Barthes, quoted in Paul Taylor, ed., Post-Pop, Cambridge, 1989, p. 25).

    In the present work however, Warhol also leaves us a tantalizing point of entry. While he enshrines the graphic efficacy of the famed Campbell’s Soup label – distilling its basic forms so that it remains instantaneously recognizable despite an economizing of detail – he also leaves the lower section empty, where the flavor of the soup would be ordinarily be written. As such Warhol plays a characteristically ambiguous game of multi-layered signification: does the empty label make an appeal to memory, allowing our personal associations to designate the content of the can; or is it that, in the process of mediation and the movement of the soup can into a new critical context, the image itself has been rendered empty – a hollow form purposed primarily for aesthetic contemplation. As a testament to Warhol’s enduring genius, he condenses in Soup Can the historic conflict between content and form and, instead of making claims to resolve it, he simply continues to whet our appetite.

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Andy Warhol was the leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the U.S. in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects, such as Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

    Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.


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Property from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection


Soup Can

signed and dated "Andy Warhol 62" on the reverse
graphite on paper
21 7/8 x 15 in. (55.6 x 38.1 cm.)
Executed in 1962.

$700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for $500,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue