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Andy Warhol: From Nowhere to Up There

an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years

by Gary Comenas

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page thirty

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David Bourdon: Throughout the spring [1962], dealers and collectors continued to dart in and out of Warhol's parlour-floor studio to view and purchase his paintings. (Warhol was still earning most of his income through commercial art.) While some dealers put his work into group shows, none offered him a one-man exhibition. Sometime around April, Martha Jackson visited the studio, bought several paintings outright, and discussed the possibility of an exhibition. Consequently, he planned to abandon his rather one-sided relationship with Stone in order to transfer to Jackson, only to learn that she had changed her mind and did not want to represent him after all.  (DB108)

[Jackson sent Warhol a cancelation letter after the opening of his soup can show at the Ferus Gallery in July 1962:  She wrote, "As this gallery is devoted to artists of an earlier generation, I now feel I must take a stand to support their continuing efforts rather than confuse issues here by beginning to show contemporary Dada... The introduction of your paintings has already had very bad repercussions for us. This is a good sign, as far as your work and your statement as an artist are concerned. Furthermore, I like you and your work. But from a business and gallery standpoint, we want to take a stand elsewhere. Therefore, I suggest to you that we cancel the exhibition we had planned for December 1962. (BBL9) gc.]

Georg Frei/Neil Printz: Martha Jackson was probably introduced to Warhol's work by John Weber, who worked for her at this time. In May 1962, the gallery began to consign and sell works privately. Typewriter [1], for example, was consigned on June 27, not sold and returned with other works at the end of August. A solo show was tentatively planned for December, but on returning from Europe in July, Jackson wrote to Warhol to say that reactions to his work had been negative; she suggested cancelling the show...

The following works were consigned to the Martha Jackson Gallery on May 22, 1962:

Cat. no. 060: Campbell's Soup Can (Black Bean) (MJ #6915); returned to Andy Warhol on August 31, 1962)

Cat. no. 111: Red Airmail Stamps (MJ#6916); sold to Leon Mnuchin on November 17, 1962

Cat. no. 112: Blue Airmail Stamps (MJ #6917); sold to Leon Mnuchin on November 17, 1962

Cat. no. 134: One Dollars Bills (Fronts) (MJ #6918); returned to Andy Warhol on August 31, 1962 (GF471)

[Note: Further consignments to Martha Jackson were made during June, July and August - see Appendix 8 of Volume One of  the catalogue raisonné. g.c.]

Kirk Varnedoe (Art writer and curator): Andy Warhol's first solo exhibition happened, as important things often do, through a quilt of intent and accident, forward planning and spur-of-the-moment hunches. Irving Blum, then running the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, usually came to New York once a year, to make the rounds of artists' studios. In the later part of 1961, Blum visited Warhol, on the recommendation of David Herbert, who worked for the Betty Parsons Gallery. While he took a quick liking to the artist (who peppered him with questions about Hollywood, movie stars, and so on), Blum was at a loss to understand the paintings he was shown - big canvases with comic-book images, recently returned to the studio from a display in the windows at Bonwit Teller. Befuddled by these pictures, he opted for a wait-and-see attitude and returned to Los Angeles.  There the matter might have remained, save for the serendipity of his unexpected return to New York five months later, via a ticket offered by the Los Angeles collector Ed Janss. Seeking counsel on a Giacometti painting he was considering (and in fact subsequently purchased) at the Klaus Perls Gallery, Janss brought Blum with him to new York, leaving him with a second chance, within the same year, to catch up on new art in the city. (KV40)

Irving Blum: ...I had the opportunity to return to New York... I went to visit Ivan Karp at Leo Castelli's gallery.... And I was talking with him for awhile, and he said, 'Irving, I have some transparencies of some work that I think might interest you.' And I said, 'I would be thrilled to look at them.' And he showed me some cartoon paintings, and I said, 'I know that I've seen these - Warhol.' And Ivan said, 'No.' he said, 'A guy by the name of Lichtenstein - lives in New Jersey - brought these in.' And I said, 'Let me look at them again.'

So I made that connection between what I had seen several months earlier in Andy's studio and these paintings which I thought were beautifully done, really marvellously crafted. They reminded me of Léger. I made several connections very quickly in terms of Roy's work, and I agreed at that very moment to have an exhibit on the West Coast somewhere down the line, when it was comfortable for both Leo and Ivan to organize. And I left and called Andy on the telephone and asked if I might go back to his studio and visit with him again. And he said, 'Please do.' And I went and there was a whole series of small soup can paintings leaning up against the wall, and he was into - this was 1961 - he was into the soup can series, and I said to him, 'Andy, what happened to the big cartoon paintings you showed me?' - which I understand later were shown at Bonwit's...

He said that he had wanted into Leo's gallery, and Ivan had shown him slides by an artist that he couldn't recall, [who] was also working in this format, and that he was doing them much better than he was doing. And so, he kind of stopped them, and so he was doing the soup cans instead. That seemed to me extremely curious, really interesting. I spent quite a time looking at the soup can paintings, liked them. And there and then, organized an exhibit on the West Coast of all the soup can paintings, which turned out to be 32 varieties at that time. So, consequently, Andy painted 32 paintings of them, and I showed in my gallery in July of 1962 the 32 paintings. (PSC193-4)

[Note: Blum says that he revisited Warhol's studio in 1961 and "he was into the soup can series." Warhol started the soup cans in December 1961. But according to Warhol biographer David Bourdon, Blum offered a show to Warhol during a May 1962 visit. Blum may be confusing the dates of his various visits.]

Irving Blum: ... I showed them by encircling the gallery with the thirty-two soup cans, all of them the same size, 20 inches high and 16 inches across. I reproduced one of them on an announcement that was sent out. When people confronted these pictures for the first time, they didn't know how to deal with them. (LC155)

Walter Hopps: Pop didn't feel like an instant success at the time... The Warhol soup can show back in 1962 at Ferus - the one we thought was going to be such a terrific success - was just ridiculed. The op-ed page of the L.A. Times ran a cartoon of two gallery goers (naturally depicted as beatniks) staring at a row of Warhol soup can paintings in the 'Farout Art Gallery' and one is saying 'The chicken noodle gives me a Zen feeling'...I think the individual paintings were priced around $1,200 or $1,500, but only one painting sold and two more were put on reserve. Meanwhile, the gallery was dying of humiliation. You have to understand that at this point, there had been no Pop show of Warhol's work back east. Blum was really depressed.... (WH51)

Irving Blum: The paintings were extremely controversial. They were priced at $100 a piece [about $787 in 2014 terms], and after two weeks I had sold six at that figure. My own confrontation with these paintings was increasingly serious and intense with each passing day. After about three weeks, I rang Andy up and said, 'Andy, I am haunted by these pictures, and I want to suggest something to you. I am going to attempt to keep these thirty-two paintings together, as a set.' Andy said, 'Irving, I'm thrilled, because they were conceived as a group, a series. If you could keep them together it would make me very happy.' I said that I had sold a few of the paintings, but that I could approach the various collectors and see if I could make any progress.

As soon as I hung up I called the first collector I had sold one of those paintings to - I think it may have been Dennis Hopper. I explained what I wanted to do, and he gracefully relinquished the picture to me. I did that six times. When I had the complete set, I called Andy to tell him. I then asked, now that I had all the paintings together and intended to keep them, what price could he make me on the group? Andy offered me all of them for $1,000 over the course of a year, and we agreed that I would send him $100 a month. (LC155-56)

Henry Geldzahler: The Campbell's Soup Can could be called perhaps the Nude Descending the Staircase of the Pop movement. It's the image that Life magazine uses to sum up art in the 1960s. It's the image that comes to many people's minds when you say Pop art in the first place. (EAP116)

Donald Goerke (Campbell's Marketing Research Director): Well, I think there were a lot of, uh, a lot of people in the company who were leary about having this kind of person involved with our brand image...

Our label had been popular for over 100 years... Andy Warhol came along and recognized a good thing when he saw it... I wouldn't say it was great art, no, but, uh, certainly it didn't hurt us, that's for sure. (CW)

Nathan Gluck: ... I could see his point was to get something that was basically everyday, dull, that you've seen over and over again, is not romantic... at one time, when the movement first got started, he wanted to call his stuff 'Commonist Painting.' Meaning, it was common. (PSC67)

Andy Warhol: I guess it happened because I... I don't know. Everybody was finding a different thing. I had done the comic strips, and then I saw Roy Lichtenstein's little dots, and they were so perfect. So I thought I could not do the comic strips, because he did them so well. So I just started other things....   I wasn't thinking of anything. I was looking for a thing. (BB120)

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