Standing at over seven feet tall, weighing 3,000 pounds and demanding the attention of onlookers, the giant Campbell’s tomato soup can towering over the front lawn of the University Center for the Arts returned to CSU last week after 22 years of absence.
The can is one of three similar pieces that Bruce Conway, a student of art at the university in the 1980s, created to specifications from Andy Warhol, the distinguished American culture artist who revolutionized pop art.
After the assembly of the three cans finished in 1981, Warhol visited CSU and signed them, keeping his promise to Conway.
Linny Frickman, director of the University Art Museum that will open in April, said it was common practice for Warhol to have assistants put in the manual labor involved with creating his art.
“He called his studio the factory,” she said. “His regular way of working was with his assistants. He didn’t actually make the works. . He would say ‘let’s make pictures of Marilyn, or tomato soup cans, or this or that,’ and it was his assistants who would actually make them.”
Frickman said a lot of pop art from Warhol’s period was made in the same way, as artists observed the consumer age of the 1960s and tried to represent the commodity-driven commercial culture.
“Andy, like the other artists of his time, was very interested in pop culture in terms of commodity,” she said. “Much of his art was produced in multiples in a factory setting.”
After residing at CSU for five years, one can was packed and shipped on a temporary loan to the Aspen-area home of John and Kimiko Powers, who were largely responsible for bringing Warhol to CSU.
Then in 1989, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan bought one of the two remaining cans, and the third was shelved away in an undisclosed location for preservation and protection.
Although Frickman said that it is against museum ethics to discuss the dollar value of art, Department Chair and associate professor of sculpture Gary Voss said that each can could be worth millions.
This, he said, is why the location of the third piece is undisclosed.
“Not to be secretive, but we just want to make sure it’s safe,” he said.
Both Frickman and Voss said art value varies on a daily basis, so putting an exact number on it is impossible.
“But the value is well into six figures, just how far into six figures is unknown,” Voss said.
Frickman said that monetary value should not be the focus, though.
It’s more important to value the fact that we have a work from such a great artist,” she said.
The can now on display is the same that was loaned to the Powers family in the 1980s, and was returned to the university in late September, as the loan expired several years ago when John Powers passed away.
“I’m surprised it’s in such good condition,” Voss said. “It’s a nice graphic image. It really works well in that space.”
Frickman said that it was brought back now to celebrate the opening of the $43 million UCA, and it will be a permanent fixture in the expanding sculpture garden on its front lawn.
“It’s a classic pop art image,” she said.
Senior Reporter Trevor Simonton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.