Food Review: Campbell’s Tomato Soup Andy Warhol 60th Anniversary Edition

Walking through my local supermarket, my eyes were drawn to a sight that was at once both odd and strangely familiar: a pallet of Campbell’s tomato soup cans labelled in the style of an Andy Warhol screenprint. I thought to myself, “am I still at a Loblaws Supermarket in Toronto or have I been magically transported to MoMA in New York City?”

I haven’t teleported, I realized quickly — but not as quickly as I’d like to admit. I was still in a Toronto supermarket. The labels indicated that they’re mere imitations of Warhol. They’re limited edition cans marking the 60th anniversary of Warhol’s first drawing of a Campbell’s Soup can. They’re orange and violet with gold writing in the style of his mid-60s work. Finally, I can own my own Warhol and for just $1.49.

In the midst of a pandemic, having not set foot in a museum or gallery for months, I was desperate for art. This commercial ploy would suffice. My mind immediately went to the first time I saw Campbell’s Soup Cans at MoMA in New York City. I thought of the city being shut down and Campbell’s Soup Cans sitting in a dark, empty museum.

At the same time, my mind went to comforting thoughts. The thought of my mother making me Campbell’s tomato soup with saltine crackers, just as her mother had done when she was a child. Just as millions of parents have done for their children. Campbell’s soups feel like something personal, like a family recipe. And yet they’re a mass-produced product shared with millions that emerges from a can with a consistency somewhere between a soup and a jelly.

Warhol’s various Campbell’s-Soup-inspired artworks also feel like something familiar and personal, while actually being mass-produced. As I stared at an image that invoked emotion and memories, I was looking at a copy of a copy of a copy. I was caught in a feedback loop of commerce inspired by art inspired by commerce. I was looking at cans. I was contemplating art, while absentmindedly blocking the path to the dairy aisle while looking to all my fellow shoppers like a man who had never seen a stack of canned soup before.

Just as the look of the can is a reproduction, so too are the contents. The taste of the limited edition tomato soup is nothing new. It’s warm, familiar. It’s sweet and tastes more like ketchup than like anything resembling a tomato, if I really think about it. But I love it. It tastes like my childhood. Objectively, I probably wouldn’t like it if it was introduced to me now, as an adult, for the first time. But familiar things are comforting. Art is comforting. At a time when I’m spending so much time in isolation, I’m grateful for art and for soup, even if they both come from a can.

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Matthew Seely

Matthew Seely

Matthew Seely is a writer and performer based in Toronto. His works have appeared at McSweeney’s, Slackjaw, Points in Case and others.