The Arts

Warhol prints: STOLEN

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Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup I, 1968. Copyright: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / ARS New York / DACS London.

THE FBI is offering up to $25,000 ($32,400 AUD) for any information on the seven Andy Warhol paintings stolen from a Missouri art museum last week.

The iconic Campbell’s Soup Can paintings, part of a set of 10, worth $500,000 in total, were taken from the Springfield Art Museum during a break-in, in the early morning hours of 7th April.

The seven soup cans were lifted straight from their hooks.

The silk-screen print works are part of set number 31 of the 1968 Campbell’s Soup I collection (out of an estimated 50 remaining sets), which had been owned by the museum since 1985.

Museum director Nick Nelson gave praise to the “outpouring of support of the Springfield community and the quick response of the Springfield Police Department and FBI”.

“For those of us who work at the museum and in Springfield’s art community, the theft of these iconic Warhol prints that the museum has had in our permanent collection for 30 years feels like the loss of a family member.”

The stolen prints are of the labels beef, vegetable, tomato, green pea, chicken noodle and black bean.

Last year, nine original Warhol prints — of the artist’s Endangered Species and Ten Portraits of Jews series — were discovered to have been quietly stolen from a Los Angeles film production firm and replaced with frauds. Police said the theft was seamless and had likely remained undiscovered for years.

There is no word on the progress of the FBI’s current investigation, but they are urging anyone with information to come forward.

The missing artworks each measure 94 by 62 cm and look a lot like cans of soup. (Source: The Federal Bureau of Investigation)

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Rod LaRod, Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey. Photo: Stephen Shore, 1965.

Andy Warhol and the ‘business-art business’

“ The best way I like to carry money, actually, is messily. Crumpled wads. A paper bag is good.”

—Andy Warhol, 1975, in From A to B and Back Again.

By the 1980s, profoundly American pop-artist Andy Warhol was the undisputed king of the New York art world. Socialite and self-dubbed ‘business artist,’ phasing between celebrity nightclubs, Coca-Cola and 16 mm film. Warhol’s lifestyle was kinetic, as was The Factory that his art came out of.

The Factory: his New York art, film and music studio, and regular hang to the levels of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Truman Capote, Madonna and The Velvet Underground.

“Paintings are too hard. The things I want to show are mechanical. Machines have less problems. I’d like to be a machine, wouldn’t you?”

Warhol’s aesthetic pride was that his art was churned out, as through from a machine. Serigraphy, the silk-screen printing method; Warhol often said that anyone could paint his paintings as well as he did — and they may well have done. Warhol, in 1969, revealed that many prints had actually been executed by his assistants. This sparked panic in the art market. The value of his works fell and the statement was immediately retracted.

“I adore America and these are some comments on it. My [images age] a statement of the harsh, impersonal products and brash materialistic objects on which America is built today. [They are] a protection of everything that can be bought and sold, the practical but impermanent symbols that sustain us.”

Warhol’s art is of glistening mass-production, fame, affectionate materialism and of course…

“I’m a deeply superficial person.”

Andy Warhol might be pleased to think: the April 2016 Springfield soup heist is not without its sense of sincerity. You make scans, or you lift it straight off the shelf. To steal art you’ve first got to strip it back to a commodity. $500,000 in seven flavours. Warhol would relish the thought. His prints were stolen just as they were: expensive cans of soup.

“…Andy said, “I’ve got to do something that will really have a lot of impact, that will be different enough from Lichtenstein and Rosenquist, that will be very personal, that won’t look like I’m doing exactly what they’re doing. …I don’t know what to do. So, Muriel, you’ve got fabulous ideas. Can’t you give me an idea?” And Muriel said, “Yes, but it’s going to cost you money.” So Andy said, “How much?” She said, “Fifty dollars….get your check book,” like, you know, he was really crazy and he wrote out the check. He said, “All right, give me a fabulous idea.” And so Muriel said, “…you’ve got to find something that’s recognisable to almost everybody. Something that you see every day that everybody would recognise. Something like a can of Campbell’s Soup.” So Andy said, “Oh, that sounds fabulous.” So, the next day Andy went out to the supermarket (because we all went the next day), and we came in, and he had a case of… all the soups. So that’s how [he obtained] the idea of the…Soup paintings.”

— An account of the 1961 business transaction between Andy Warhol and Muriel Latow, from Shanes, E. The Pop Art Tradition.

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