Are You There, God? It's Me, Andy
On Andy Warhol: Revelations at the Brooklyn Museum
“Everyone thinks Andy was just lucky with all that fame and fortune. Turns out, he was praying the whole time.”
In one of the Conversations with God books, Neale Donald Walsch talks about a low point in his life. There’s no food or money or rent and then one night he goes to the bus station on an errand and finds a young couple there. They’re shivering cold and he invites them in for a little shelter and warmth. Once home, he reaches deep inside his refrigerator and cupboards, grabs those neglected supplies we all take for granted sometimes, and they have a feast for the evening.
Every cranny of his kitchen reveals a minor smorgasbord; those things he’d forgotten are now new delicacies. The moral of the story is all of us only receive as we try to give.
The moral of the story is I always forget about the can of Campbell’s Soup in the far back corner of my cabinets until I’m starving, or if it’s sitting right in front of me. The Conversations with God books (there are 9) sold over 10 million copies. Mr. Walsch and God just kept on talking. And there are 32 varieties in the original Warhol Soup Can series.
Both Warhol and Walsch have been called out for plagiarism. But not by God. God uses saints to explain. God makes copies like a derelict copy machine; everything repeats.
An old joke my father used to tell: A guy looks everywhere in his house and there’s not a speck of food to eat. He’s emptied shelves, turned over drawers. He finally says, “God, please, I’m so hungry. If you give me some food, I promise I’ll stop lying and telling stupid jokes and cheating on my wife.”
Just then he opens a cabinet out of frustration. Right there on the shelf, in a place he’s looked a dozen times, a can of soup stares him in the face. The man says, “Never mind, God. Forget what I said. I found something.”
According to Time Magazine, the most expensive bowl of soup ever, cost over $5,000 at auction. The proceeds went to charity. A non-charitable bowl of soup would set you back as much as $688 at the Talon Club in Vegas. The secret ingredient, Cordyceps (or “caterpillar fungus”), increases stamina and cures cancer and acts as an aphrodisiac.
My mom’s chicken and rice soup cures cancer too, we always used to say.
In 2010, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) from 1962 sold for over 9 million dollars at Christie’s.
Right now you can buy Conversations with God, Book One, for a dollar ninety-nine on Amazon.com. A six-pack of Campbell’s will cost you 6 bucks on Amazon Prime. Pray for no broken links in the ever-undependable supply chain.
Speaking of the art of money, here’s what that Impressionist overlord, Claude Monet did: Wearing stark white three-piece suits he turned lily pads into Gods. Before then, the hierarchy of painting demanded traditional religious topics get tackled by the masters as the ultimate subject matter: The Last Supper; The Annunciation. Impressionism showed contemporary God in nature instead, shifting and alive in series paintings, the shimmering and regal wheat stacks, the faithful and meandering Seine. Every day God changed in repetition, reflected in open eyes.
Art Historian Paul Hayes Tucker even speaks of the fiery negative spaces in the back of Monet’s late lilies—the willow tree mirrored there next to tendril roots of floating flowers, the moss shown through below— as the artist’s version of the Pieta; the twisting figure of Christ cradled like a baby in Mary’s arms. The absolute end before rebirth. The pictures of Monet’s gardens every morning hold the surface, the shallows, and the reflected sky. They hold The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost. The Virgin gives birth to a newer God.
If you set a Campbell’s Soup can on the fence with the label peeled off and get about to target practice, no matter which variety you started with, the holes you blast will pop and ooze condensed tomato soup.
Here’s what Andy Warhol did: He poked holes in everything you once held dear. He captured the tender moments before stigmata appears.
He copied the fleur-de-lis of Catholic saints found in Cezanne and Gauguin backdrops as flat as any surface in mornings bent beyond a lily pond.
See the half-can Japanese bridge open up and yawn.
We make soup to remember the top floor cold water studio spaces we lived in back in New York, where we’d warm up cans on radiator coils or let Chicken With Rice simmer out on hotplates.
We open up and pour out soup on top of linen shirts and slacks. The loops and swirls of drips
transform into the seeping solid masses our troops can hide behind from whatever they’re attacking. We camouflage ties and pants with spills and sighs like, “This happens every time I wear white.”
We make soup to prop those cans on fences later, our after-dinner plans for rifles and squinting and glances down long-barreled sights at Jasper Johns. “Put your hands where I can see,” we squeal in glee, and strike Elvis poses from any movie where he played a sheriff or an outlaw or some other version of himself. There are 32 versions of Elvis, 32 handguns he left behind on the day he died.
Across the river another pop master, James Rosenquist, spells POP differently and backwards (pop: to make a light explosive sound). His cans are open and emptied instead, discarded in the trash. They’re the churning guts of us, the congealed spaghetti of our insides (pop; as we burst).
At the Christmas party in Los Angeles, the formal guests brought gifts for hosts (pop: to go somewhere, usually for a short time and without notice). Andy set the soup cans down and turned the art world into derelicts. Like back in St. Mary’s homeless donation box we gave non-perishables only with the labels on (pop: an informal attempt).
A blast of color, a burst of light; to pop in, pop over, or pop off. Pop pills, move quickly, feel your ears blast in the altitude: at the end there’s what your left with. You call your father, Pop.
Neale Donald Walsh tells the story: During a Christmas pageant dress rehearsal, a collection of children each held up a letter to spell out the title of the song, “Christmas Love.” But one little girl held the M upside down. It read, CHRIST WAS LOVE.
Hold a can of Campbell’s Soup upside down and you can empty out your insides. Except he stole the story—he stole the soup—from another writer. Walsh plagiarized a copyrighted work from the book Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. He lied about talking to God. Like everyone you meet.
God exists when no one cares to speak.
We rinsed out empty cans and tied strings around their soup can waists, like humble belts for monks or priests, our tension gripping tight.
We stood in separate rooms and delighted in games of telephone, our voices carrying (I can hear you) until someone cut our tones in half when wireless was invented. True love means giving with no strings attached.
Matthew 6:6 says, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door behind you.”
On October 6, 1961, President John F. Kennedy urged Americans to build nuclear bomb shelters.
9 months later, on July 9, 1962, the Ferus Gallery in L.A. debuted Warhol’s Soup Cans.
The whole world became another soup can. And then another. Suburbia sprawled.
We lived inside a soup can. We punched until our fists were dented with bruises. We bled.
A translation of a poem by Rumi: Before these possessions you have slip away, say what Mary said when visited by Gabriel: I’ll hide inside a soup can.
When Leonardo da Vinci began painting The Last Supper, he hammered a nail in the wall. You can still see the hole in Jesus’ right temple to this day. Everything in the picture recedes toward this vanishing point. The windows are shortened, the walls are too close. On the left is Turkey Vegetable and Chicken Gumbo. In the middle is Onion, Cheddar Cheese, and Vegetable Beef. On the right is Scotch Broth, Green Pea, and Clam Chowder.
Depending on which grocery store you’re visiting, they may substitute Pepper Pot for Judas at the left.
In 2006, PEPPER POT sold at Christie’s for almost 12 million dollars, or 30 pieces of silver.
Da Vinci pulled out every trick in the book to present the elaborate illusion that a flat wall looked three-dimensional. Height (Father), Son (Width), and Holy Ghost (depth). He lied when painting about God.
Sometimes the last supper is just the last time you ate. Last as recent not last as final.
My girlfriend says, “You get so dramatic when you’re hungry.”
Monet’s paintings changed after World War I. The fiery sunsets bouncing off the surfaces of his lily pond easily mimicked Armageddon. The branches above are cradled figures held between lily pad hands, the ripples are blasts we hear and feel and tremble from near and far away. He’d painted poplar trees before this war to signal strength and resurrection. But now, his planted willow trees on canvases spread out. They wept for fallen soldiers too numerous to collect or count, each branch’s laden limbs bend, slack and weary from attack.
The onslaught flattened the world, forever changed. Monet’s truth, inherited later by Expressionists, included no horizon.
What was there to look forward to again? In those lily pond reflections, we always look up or back.
During World War I, with their country under siege, many of the priests in France were asked to please use watered-down tomato soup as substitute for communion wine. Each towel they presented goblets on bore the symbol of fleur-de-lis.
And Jesus said, “Take, eat. This is my body.”
The first thing we loaded into our bomb shelters were cans of Campbell’s Soup.
My father always passed off his homemade salad dressing as an old secret family recipe. He blended buttermilk and spices in a glass heirloom jar, set it down on the patterned tablecloth for my parent’s third date.
Years later, my mother found Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix packages in the trash when cleaning up the pots and pans and dinner plates. My father seduced women by following directions.
My mother never said a word. She picked out crumpled packets from the trash and made found art into still-life arranged out on the countertops. She curated his dishonesty for the rest of his life.
My mother measured out his frequent infidelities for years without searching for errant perfume
scents or haphazard lipstick streaks. Instead, she poured over dress shirts and suit coats after every business trip he ever took, scouring his entire wardrobe for any sign of ranch.
At least when Jackson Pollock and Bill de Kooning wrestled with one another, they’d fistfight in the open outside of Manhattan’s Cedar Tavern; they’d kick and tumble and spit in the gutter and the street.
No one sniffed the air back then for a whiff of dressing-dressed romaine.
At the Whitney Museum’s retrospective in 2018 there were Pollock’s movements demolished in the standard sample dance steps that were painted on the floor.
Arshile Gorky’s suffering was mocked, his flight from Armenian genocide, his letters to the U.S. government ignored until Andy’s camouflage in bloom.
Jasper Johns’ bold bronze Ballantine’s were decried; Rauschenberg’s eraser was erased and replaced by Brillo box sculptures arranged in a cathedral to, for, and by the Patron Saint of Passive Aggression.
In Brooklyn now, we pray.
They never invited Andy to the party because there’s so much sodium in the soup. Make no mistake at the late, great glamour of Studio 54 and the ghoulish garish centerpiece of the nouveau elite: Andy always was a really salty bitch. It’s the reason he had to throw parties of his own.
We make soup to empty cans for magic tricks. We hide an object, turn it into something else. We appear and disappear.
My mother wasn’t any better than my dad. Her world-famous recipe for cancer-curing chicken soup consisted of one part Campbell’s Chicken Noodle and one part Chicken and Rice. It took about 15 minutes to make.
We place labels on different things until they look the same. We cover others now with camouflage. Everyplace we go, we hide there in plain view.
After art critic Arthur Oswald Fischel saw the soup cans at the Ferus Gallery he made a resolution. In every piece he wrote until the day he died, Fischel said As American as Campbell’s Soup. He never again mentioned apple pie.
Andy invited celebrities to his dinner party: Dennis Hopper with Rice, Vegetarian Vegetable Capote, Cream of Celery Mao, Pia Beef Noodle. My mom saying, “Take me to the electric chair, I still won’t give up my recipes.”
Look around the factory, between the pink splash, yellow splash, blue. Every guest becomes a soup can with their labels off, then on. They discard designs for the video screens he’s recording.
Their makeup is their disguise.
My girlfriend said about her ex, “He’s great, but he’s an actor.”
The worst thing I never ever confessed to: We’d rifle through the parish shelves, steal wine and food from storage. One winter we even raided the nativity at St. Mary’s.
I pulled the baby from the manger and replaced him with a swaddled up can of soup.
Every single Christmas we gave our dad a patterned necktie. “So?” my girlfriend said.
I said, “He acted as if he liked them for his whole entire life.”
She said, “You wouldn’t understand L.A.”
In the post-apocalyptic bomb shelters two things fulfill our needs: The art history lessons from Gauguin, Cezanne and Warhol; the Catholic saints and fleur-de-lis.
The only time anyone ever caught Liza Minelli without her makeup on she looked exactly like a can of soup.
“Are you kidding me?” my mother said when she sealed my father in a soup can. “He loved those suits and ties,” she said.
But why? All of them are so ugly.
“He knew if he wore them out of town, I’d never find the salad dressing stains.”
Andy Warhol turned traditional art upside-down when he wore white three-piece suits as wigs upon his head.
Andy Warhol changed geography when he made the west coast the center of the art world, just because he didn’t get invited to a party.
Andy Warhol changed throwing parties and religion forever and ever too. The host will now receive you.
In Brooklyn now, we pray.
Shell casings, coffins, bullets, saints, bunkers, celebrities, symbols, mirrors.
“Look at it a different way,” Arthur Fischel said. “All those testosterone-filled animals spent the 1950s emptying themselves onto canvases. They ripped apart their casings and poured de Kooning and Pollock and Rothko soup all over everything they could get their hands on.”
Sustenance, comfort food, memories: We eat soup to remind us of our mothers.
“Andy came along and at least he had the good sense to clean it up.”
We eat soup to cure disease.
The only time I ever heard my mother curse at the dinner table came a few weeks after my father died of lung cancer. She said, “Jesus Christ, I miss him.” Before that she would have said,
Chicken and Rice, I miss him.
All of us survive on substitution.
“Look again,” Gabriel says now of the cans. “You keep saying how flat they are.”
This time when each of us turns everyone sees the bump.
In Brooklyn now, we pray.
Kurt Cole Eidsvig
Kurt Cole Eidsvig is the author of the books POP X POETRY, OxyContin for Breakfast, and Art Official. He has won a Warhol Foundation / Creative Capital Fellowship, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship, and the Edmund Freeman Award. He maintains a website at www.EidsvigArt.com.
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