Return to Warhol


by Henry T. Hopkins

In the Fall of 1961, Walter Hopps and Irving Blum--newly co-proprietors of the now legendary Ferus Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles--were in New York together scouting for young talent. During their visit, the windows of Bonwit-Teller on Fifth Ave. were embellished with comic book art by a relatively unknown youngster, Andy Warhol.

The two of them made arrangements to visit Warhol's studio where they were taken aback by what they saw. Neither of them could relate to this new, subject-based art since they, like most of us at the time, were absorbed in Abstract Expressionism and the new "Beat" aesthetic of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

A few months later, Blum was again in New York as the guest of collector and art supporter Ed Janss, who wanted Irving to look at a Giacometti that he was considering for purchase. An inevitable visit to the then "hot" Leo Castelli Gallery took place where Ivan Karp, a dedicated searcher, showed Blum the work of another new comic book artist Leo was planning to take on, Roy Lichtenstein. Suddenly Irving's "idea" light bulb turned on. Was this a movement? Something in the air? After all, across the wheat fields back on the other coast, young Los Angeles artists like Ed Ruscha and Joe Goode, as well as Bay Area painters like Wayne Thiebaud and Mel Ramos seemed to be mining similar territory without being in touch with one another.

So, it was off to Warhol's loft once again where Blum expected to see more "comic book" art, but instead was confronted by thirty-two small paintings of soup cans each seemingly identical in every way except for the name of the soup: Chicken Noodle, Beef Barley, etc. The paintings represented every flavor of Campbell's Soup on the market. When Irving asked Warhol about this new direction, Andy simply told him that there was this other artist (Roy Lichtenstein) who was painting comic strips better that he was, so he shifted to soup cans. This was the limit of their philosophical discussion.

“Dick Tracy,” 1960, casein and
crayon on canvas, 48 x 33 7/8”.

“100 Cans,” 1962, oil on
paint on canvas, 72 x 52”.

Having already made up his mind, Irving asked Warhol if he might be interested in having a one-person show of the thirty-two paintings in Los Angeles. Already star-struck and impressed with Irving's elegant Hollywood demeanor, Andy thought that would be "marvelous." Thus, in July of 1962, the Ferus Gallery presented the first ever Andy Warhol exhibition.

The paintings were neatly spaced in the well-lighted gallery and were made available for $100 a piece. Five had sold when Blum began to have second thoughts. Perhaps the works should be kept together and maybe sold together as a unit. Irving contacted Andy again, who again felt this would be "marvelous," since that had been his original conception. He agreed to sell the whole set to Irving for $1000. In retrospect, this was a respectable price since Irving's salary at the gallery was then $300 a month. Blum then had to confront the five purchasers to date, who probably hadn't paid yet anyway and were possibly having second thoughts of their own. Four of them agreed readily to let the series stand; only one, Dennis Hopper (surprise, surprise!) gave Irving a bad time, but he finally relented.

As we all know now, Irving's faith in Andy and his own "magic" eye were well founded. The thirty-two soup cans now reside in splendor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where they were purchased for many millions of dollars, making this a true American version of art appreciation.

As the fates would have it, in 1961 to supplement my meager salary at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I was writing gallery reviews for the fledgling Artforum magazine, then published on the West Coast. I was assigned to write about the Warhol show at Ferus Gallery. So, here in its entirety, is the first review ever written on the work of Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol, “Onion,” from “Campbell’s
Soup Cans,” 1962, a/c, 20 x 16”.
Andy Warhol, Ferus Gallery: To those of us who grew up during the cream-colored thirties with “Big-Little Books,” “Comic Books,” and a “Johnson and Smith Catalogue” as constant companions; when “good, hot soup” sustained us between digging caves in the vacant lot and having “clod” fights without fear of being tabbed as juvenile delinquents; when the Campbell Soup Kids romped gaily in four colors on the overleaf from the Post Script page in The Saturday Evening Post, this show has peculiar significance. Though, as many have said, it may make a neat, negative point about standardization it also has a positive point to make. To a tenderloin oriented society it is a nostalgic call for a return to nature. Warhol obviously doesn’t want to give us much to cling to in the way of sweet handling, preferring instead the hard commercial surface of his philosophical cronies. But then house fetishes rarely compete with Rembrandt in esthetic significance. However, based on formal arrangements, intellectual and emotional response, one finds favorites. Mine is Onion.
--Henry T. Hopkins, © Artforum, September 1962, vol. 1, n. 4