Andy Warhol is a celebrity name that needs no soup can MOCA exhibition introduction, particularly if that red-white-and-Campbell's label is front and center (in this case, July 9 through September 7th). And yet, within those visions of 1960s grunge New York City lofts and galleries is an L.A. connection that often goes unnoticed. Or at least until a longtime mega-player on the NYC gallery scene, art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, took over the shaky reins at MOCA.
Warhol's infamous soup cans “painting” is really a conglomeration of 32 paintings (20 x 16-inch images, each of a different Campbell's soup can label). The piece also happens to have been the artist's first solo show — ever — 49 years ago. That it happened in L.A., not New York City, is worth a second look. And we're finally getting one.
According to a MOCA press release, Warhol was skeptical of displaying his work here, but purportedly his (also mega at the time) art dealer Irving Blum convinced him that “movie stars come to the gallery[s]” in L.A. In reality, it turned out only a few Hollywood sorts like Dennis Hopper (at the time in his 30s) were gallery goers then. Tough soup love.
This month's exhibition is the first time those 32 soup can paintings are all back together in an L.A. exhibition after that original showing. That Blum reportedly sold several of the paintings individually for $100 a pop after the L.A. exhibition, and then asked for them back when he realized this art piece was truly more than the sum of its soup-can parts (all of the original buyers agreed to return the pieces), is one of those classic soup-in-the-face moments today. Blum kept all of the paintings in his private collection until the mid 1990s, when they were, as we are told in that same press release, “acquired” by MOMA as a “partial gift and purchase” from Blum.
For the original Warhol supporters and their soup can heirs, that has got to be the 20th century's biggest grocery store return regret made. Ever.
Andy Warhol's Soup Cans Exhibition, July 9 to September 7, MOCA, 250 S. Grand Ave., Downtown. For more info, go to moca.org.