Converse Extra Special Value
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
116 x 180 inches
Check out Converse Extra Special Value, above. That’s artwork featuring classic Converse All Stars by the late pop master Andy Warhol, mimicking his own early work in advertising. As an illustrator and graphic designer, Warhol sometimes drew shoes for ads. As an artist, he brought elements of ads into his pieces shown in galleries and museums, challenging people to see them in a different light.
If that were the only link, Converse’s new Chuck Taylor All Star Andy Warhol Collection sneakers would make sense by themselves. But it gets deeper. Adorned with Warhol’s beloved Campbell’s Soup cans, the Converse x Warhol sneakers are a swirl of classic American products-for-the-people.
In conversation with Carrie Dedon, assistant curator at Seattle Art Museum, we go even further. Among other things, we learn from Dedon that Warhol definitely saw himself as a product, and we find out what his exaltation of logo design had to do with his concept of democracy.
Images courtesy of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Converse
Nordstrom Blogs: Why does Andy Warhol matter in 2015?
Carrie Dedon: That’s a good question, and a lot of the premise of our recent Pop Departures show [which featured Warhol’s works and his peers’] was that pop art hasn’t gone away. Pop artists, including Warhol, were working with issues of media culture, celebrity culture. These are issues that have continued to be of interest to artists until today. Consumer culture has changed drastically since the ’60s, so artists are interested in examining that change. Warhol and the pop artists pioneered that close examination.
Warhol played with commercial logos in his art. What point was he making with using the Campbell’s soup logo?
The Campbell’s Soup series was one of the ones he did with commercial logos–his Coca-Cola cans and Brillo boxes are famous, too–all of which showed he was interested in bringing everyday consumer culture into the gallery. This was a radical thing compared to artists of the ’50s like Jackson Pollack and the abstract expressionists, where the artist’s gesture was the whole content of the work. It was all expression, all emotion, all interior experience. And now here was Warhol and artists like Lichtenstein bring mundane objects and claiming that as a subject for art-making. The story behind the Campbell’s Soup series in 1962 was supposedly that he ate it for lunch everyday. Everything he said you have to take with a grain of salt. He was a theatrical character. But there is something to this idea he had of accessibility: the familiarity of it, the democratic nature of it. Warhol liked that Campbell’s Soup tasted the same to the richest man in the world as the poorest man.
What’s interesting to me is that Warhol talked about the eventual democratization and fleetingness of fame–which we see in social media in 2015–yet for all that focus on temporality, he was interested in iconic images that will be famous until the end of time.
Good point. Campbell’s Soup is still a classic product. He was treating celebrity the same way he was treating these products. In celebrity portraits, we consume the person like a product. We consume media gossip the same way we consume any other object. It’s an interesting point that Campbell’s Soup has endured. I don’t know if he was thinking about it as an enduring good. I think he was just picking an object off the shelf.
That said, Campbell’s design is classic, Converse is a classic style, and Warhol has become an American classic. He made that classic image of himself, partly, by being a self-promotional genius. He was obsessed with celebrity and he knew how to make it happen. He created a whole world around himself. His studio, called the Factory, was his center of everything for awhile. He made work. Threw parties. Made films. Covered the walls in foil to create a cheap, club-like scene. All with himself at the center. Even in his own life, he was promoting himself as a classic American product. That legacy has only grown. His artistic legacy is phenomenal. But his personal legacy, that enigmatic personality that he cultured, was part of that classic American superstar artist that we know today. And the Campbell’s Soup cans are his quintessential work. It has become an iconic thing in American art.
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