Andy Warhol certainly enjoyed his tomato soup.
When the bespectacled and iconic smasher of artistic molds revealed his Campbell’s Soup Cans series in 1962, the deceptively simple representation of his daily lunch sent gallery denizens across the country scurrying into a head-scratching tailspin, forcing them to confront the question, What is art, really?
Sure, Warhol’s iteration of soup cans propelled the imagery of the common folk, long understood as anathema to “real” artistic forces, into Pop Art, one of the weightiest visual movements of the twentieth century.
Yet it also served a far simpler—and perhaps more noble—purpose. Warhol’s renderings hero-ized the humble can of tomato soup. For those of us without a double Ph.D. in art, Warhol’s paintings didn’t assault our ideals. They didn’t belittle our intellect. They made us feel good about what we were eating. Given how often Warhol revisited the topic of tomato soup, both with his can opener and his paintbrush, we think it made him feel pretty good, too.
That doesn’t mean the classic tomato soup recipe—whether the tried-and-true steaming hot bowl that goes great with a grilled cheese or the quintessential chilled gazpacho—can’t do without a little reinterpretation. As with works of art, some renditions, like Chickpea Soup with Smoked Paprika and Roasted Tomato Soup, make a more modest yet no less worthy contribution to the body of work. Others, like Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup, may initially startle you with their irreverence but soon earn your respect. A few, like Portuguese Bread Soup and New England Bouillabaisse for One, may not seem on point at all, their relevance revealed only after further contemplation. And then there’s the occasional creation that’s so inspired, like the Chilled Tomato Soup with Feta, as to make you gasp in awe.
Today, on Mr. Warhol’s birthday, we celebrate the many forms that soup, like art, can take. Each different. Each deserving of its own 15 minutes of fame.