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MeTube: Warhol’s Campbell (the soup, not the Met’s director)

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The calm before the storm: Entrance to Metropolitan Museum’s critically slammed exhibition, enlivened by two Andy Warhol 1967 self-portraits from the Detroit Institute of Arts
All photos by Lee Rosenbaum

With the reviews mostly in, the Metropolitan Museum’s Regarding Warhol is starting to seem like a train wreck: Wife-and-husband art critics Roberta Smith (NY Times) and Jerry Saltz (New York Magazine) followed close upon Lance Esplund (Bloomberg) and CultureGrrl in unleashing bruising critiques, while the New Yorker‘s Peter Schjeldahl mused enthusiastically about Warhol’s work, while saying relatively little about this particular show’s merits or lack thereof.

You know something is off-course when the freshest, most informative part of a museum’s press preview turns out to be the concluding corporate lunch (really more like snacks) hosted by Campbell Soup Company, the sponsor of the exhibition’s education and lecture programs.

The array of demitasse cups of soup and petite grilled-cheese canapés that awaited us in the trustees lounge induced traumatic flashbacks to the bad old days when corporate patron Philip Morris distributed its cigarettes at the openings of exhibitions that it sponsored. Should the Met be channeling the art press from an exhibition preview into what was essentially a corporation’s promotional event?

Still, compared to Philip Morris’ cigarettes, the soup was a lot healthier and tastier (and blurrier):

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Feeling out-of-sorts (and out-of-focus) after trekking through a largely disappointing exhibition, I wasn’t prepared to be won over by the charm and substance (and sustenance) of retired Campbell executive and current board member Archie van Beuren‘s appropriately humorous, offbeat account of the history of the Pop artist’s unauthorized appropriation of Campbell labels and the soup company’s evolving reaction to this—at first, wary; later, welcoming.

This brought to mind the less happy resolution, just three days before the press preview, of Shepard Fairey‘s misadventures in unauthorized artistic appropriation—his Pop-inflected colorization of an AP photographer’s image of Barack Obama for the iconic “Hope” poster. That, in turn, made me wonder about Fairey’s absence from the Met’s show. Perhaps more directly than any other artist, Fairey adopted Warhol’s portrait-making strategies—the appropriator, appropriated (and again, re-appropriated).

But now let’s get back into the soup. As you will see in the CultureGrrl Video, below, Campbell’s van Beuren urged us not to leave the lunch without our swag bag.

Here’s mine, at home on the range:

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And here’s a close-up of the posthumously “signed” limited edition (bearing a Warhol photo and his infamous “15-minutes” quotation), available “exclusively at Target” for 75ȼ a pop. (The size of that “limited edition” is reportedly 1.2 million.):

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Let’s start my five-minute Warhol video with a few excerpts from Met director Tom Campbell‘s brief remarks to the press about the show, including his cringe-inducing mispronunciation of Henry Geldzahler, the Met’s legendary contemporary-art specialist. (The second syllable of his last name should be pronounced as spelled—”zah” not “zay.”)

Next we’ll hear to a few words from the show’s co-curator, Marla Prather of the Met, who told us that this wide-ranging display of some 145 works by 60 artists doesn’t merely illustrate “the influence of Warhol” but, rather, explores questions that are “much more subtle”—so subtle that neither Prather nor the show did much to elucidate them.

Then we’ll enjoy some comic relief in van Beuren’s wry history of the Warhol-Campbell connection (with a hat-tip to the artist’s pioneering dealer, Irving Blum).

Come join me now on this Campbell Ramble.

an ArtsJournal blog