Tesco Value Soup Can, 2004
Oil on canvas
121.9 x 91.5 cm (48×36 inches)
Stenciled with the artist’s name on the overturn edge
Signed, dated “07/11/04” on the stretcher
Sotheby’s London: 5 October 2017
GBP 392,750 / USD 515,622
Crude Oils, London, October 2005
Notorious for his unconventional practice – an approach to art-making that is both highly iconic and sardonic in its attitude to art world systems – Banksy is today regarded as one of the most popular and controversial artists of the Twenty-First Century. Preferring to graffiti buildings with his subversive spray-painted motifs, unofficially install his pieces within revered art institutions, or sell his work on market stalls on the streets of New York, Banksy is known for side-stepping the establishment. However, the artist’s celebrated oeuvre often engages in a direct dialogue with art history. In its synthesis of street-smarts, counter-cultural wit, and art historical reverence, Tesco Value Soup Can from 2004 is the ultimate examples of this.Referencing one of the true paradigms of twentieth-century art, Tesco Value Soup Can presents a pastiche of Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup Can paintings. In 1962 Warhol took the universally treasured and quintessentially American design of an inexpensive consumer product and turned it into a paragon of high art; 40 years later, Banksy adapted Warhol’s all-American democratic symbol and made it relevant to his contemporary moment. Banksy’s Tesco Value Soup Can draws on a more affordable version of Warhol’s beloved Campbell’s soup; marketed as part of the UK supermarket’s Value range, this product utterly lacks the stylish branding that made Campbell’s soup a symbol of the booming post-war economy in the USA. By choosing Tesco supermarkets’ own-brand of tomato soup and its basic no-bones packaging – a stark contrast to comparative luxury of Campbell’s design classic – Banksy’s painting speaks to a bread-line culture of austerity and welfare. Herein, Banksy transforms an icon of post-war American affluence into a pithy pedestrian emblem of twenty-first-century cost-cutting.
Consistent with Banksy’s subversion of established art-world customs, this painting was exhibited alongside a litany of iconoclastic art-historical pastiches in the now fabled Crude Oils exhibition in October 2005. Conceived as a temporary pop-up exhibition on 100 Westbourne Grove in London and on view for only 12 days, this show undermined the bourgeois nature of many of history’s most iconic works of art. Tesco Value Soup Can was a focal point of this early exhibition, and interestingly, Banksy chose to make a diminutive version of the same work later that year, which he covertly hung in the Museum of Modern Art in New York – significantly, this institution owns Warhol’s incipient thirty-two Campbell’s Soup Cans from 1962. The presence of Banksy’s riff on Warhol’s Soup Cans went unnoticed by staff for six days before being discovered and taken off public view (the work however is still in the hands of the museum).
When Warhol first exhibited these thirty-two Campbell’s Soup Cans at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles in 1962, his work was met with surprise and misapprehension. In an art world where abstraction dominated the narrative, the precise copy of everyday consumer objects undermined accepted high-art norms. As trail-blazed by Warhol, the radical unpicking of convention has been a central driving force in Banksy’s oeuvre. Having emerged from the very margins of the art world, namely its criminal fringes, Banksy has used Guerrilla tactics to infiltrate and undercut the constructs of its inner-sanctum. Banksy’s iconoclastic scrutiny of the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion can indeed be considered a street art version of institutional critique; a characteristic that has become a central hallmark of his work.
Perfectly broadcasting Banksy’s trademark style and critical élan, the present work is in every way a Banksy masterpiece. Besides its counterpart in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and its important inclusion in the early Crude Oils exhibition, Tesco Value Soup Can is remarkable as an entirely hand-painted work on canvas (the majority of the artist’s canvasses are made with stencilled spray paint). Significantly, this mirrors Warhol’s very first Campbell’s Soup Cans – works that were painstakingly executed by hand shortly before Warhol turned to screenprinting for a more facile and factory-style mode of production. Simultaneously taking on the Godfather of Pop and taking down the bourgeois art world, Tesco Value Soup Can is a crucial work by the world’s most famous street artist.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was a successful magazine and ad illustrator who is considered one of the leading artists of the Pop Art movement. He ventured into a wide variety of art forms, including performance art, filmmaking, video installations, and writing, and controversially blurred the lines between fine art and mainstream aesthetics.