Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962
“Burgoyne Diller: This is a mediocre show.” reads a typical lead in a Donald Judd review. From a craft stand point, most editors would take issue with this — readers aren’t told what kind of work he’s made, and Judd uses the passive voice — but I’ve been finding it enjoyable none the less going through a few valuable opinions without the flourishes of writing conventions.
I bring this up, because I purchased Donald Judd: The Complete Writings 1959-1975, recently, and within the first few pages came to the conclusion that the artist understands the rules of formalism better than virtually any critic working today. So far however, the most interesting passage comes from a piece in which he misses the point entirely.
Andy Warhol: It seems that the salient metaphysical question lately is “Why does Andy Warhol paint Campbell Soup cans?” The only available answer is “Why not?” The subject matter is a cause for both blame and excessive praise. Actually it is not very interesting to think about the reasons, since it is easy to imagine Warhol’s paintings without such subject matter, simply as “over-all” paintings of repeated elements. The novelty and absurdity of the repeated images of Marilyn Monroe, Troy Donahue and Cola-Cola bottles is not great. Although Warhol thought of using these subjects he certainly did not think of the format.
Certainly, these remarks stand in contrast to how we think about Warhol’s soup cans today, (which is described by wikipedia as commercialization and indiscriminate “sameness” of the modern era). I like the review though, because it seems such perfect record of the time. Of course, applying the metric of a Jackson Pollock/abstract expressionist “over-all” painting to that of Andy Warhol isn’t going to work, but it was so engrained in the way people thought about art that even those steeped in the art scene couldn’t step out of that way of thinking. I’ll note that later on in the review, Judd wrote he thought it was a bad idea to apply movement names such as “Pop”, “O.K.”, “Neo-Dada” to the work since the various artists falling under that category were too diverse. Technically speaking, he’s right, even if the Pop Art label ultimately stuck.