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Explore the art and life of Andy Warhol through the food he depicted as well as the food he actually ate. We work our way through the ultimate Andy Warhol tasting menu. And don't forget to subscribe to Sound Field!

From Coca-Cola, Cornflakes, and Campbell's Tomato Soup, to a single mushroom, a banana, and a giant piece of meat, we step our way through the industrially-produced foods that Andy Warhol both ate and also venerated in his art. Let's eat like Andy.

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There's an Andy Warhol you almost definitely know, the one of repeating Marilyns, of Campbell's Soup, Brillo boxes, cow wallpaper, celebrity portraits, and dollar signs.  There is a ton of writing about Warhol, biographies, and even a detailed account of his daily life from the mid-1970s until his death in 1987.  Warhol surrounded himself with people who all gave competing reports of their time with him and he provided the world with too many prized aphorisms to count.

Today, we'll work our way through a tasting menu that explores Warhol's life through the food he depicted as well as the food he actually ate and talk about the human person you might not know, the one behind the enigma, the ultimate producer and consumer and product all in one, impossible to capture but oh so fun to try to anyway.

We'll start with a little breakfast, which for Warhol was often cornflakes, at least at certain points in his life.  We even have photographic evidence of him eating them, here with his beloved mother Julia who lived with him in New York from 1952 to 1970, and here as photographed by Bobby Grossman for Grossman's late 1970s series of celebrities eating cornflakes.  The cereal was one of a number of industrially produced, commercially available products that the artist not only consumed but reproduced and venerated in his art.  Cornflakes boxes were part of his famous show at Stable Gallery in New York in 1964, where he packed the space with Brillo box sculptures and box sculptures of Heinz Tomato Ketchup and Campbell's Tomato Juice as well as cornflakes, leaving only narrow passageways for amused and scandalized visitors to shimmy through.  These were not actual cardboard shipping containers, but wooden boxes ordered from a carpenter, then painted brown and silkscreened with logos by Warhol and his right hand man at the time, Gerard Malanga.  They were some of the first works made in the space that became known as The Factory, due to the assembly line-like processes that happened there.  Oh, and the fact that the building had previously been a hat factory.

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Hmm.  These are alright.  Enjoyable for their novelty, maybe, and a reminder of the strangeness and glory of industrial produced foodstuffs that took over the American diet after World War II.  Kind of exactly like what Warhol's box filled gallery/warehouse was pointing out.

Our next course comes from a restaurant and boutique where Warhol spent a tremendous amount of time in the 1950s during his career as a commercial illustrator and into his years as a pop artist.  Frozen hot chocolate.  Actually, sorry, they spell it this way, is the best known menu item at Serendipity 3, which opened on East 58th Street in 1954 and quickly became Warhol's unofficial headquarters.  To begin making it, we'll chop up three ounces of chocolate, whatever kind you like, and put it into a double boiler, stirring until it melts.  Then, add in two teaspoons of store-bought hot chocolate mix and 1.5 tablespoons of sugar, stirring until it's all blended together and smooth.  Remove from the heat, mix in half a cup of milk, and then let it cool to room temperature.  While that's happening, let's look at some of the work Andy was doing at the time he started drinking these concoctions.

Throughout the 1950s, he experienced considerable success as an illustrator for magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, making art for advertisements and window displays and creating illustrated books with friends.  All of the cursive script you see in his works from the 50s was contributed by his mom, Julia, by the way.  Her fanciful script paired beautifully with his distinctive and blotchy style of drawing.  Andy's blotted line was much sought after by the art directors of Madison Avenue and I'm gonna demonstrate roughly how he did it.

Let's take this illustration he did for a 1952 brochure about rheumatoid arthritis.  We're gonna trace the illustration itself but Warhol would usually work from a photograph of an object or a drawing and trace the image with pencil onto tracing paper.  Then he'd hinge the tracing paper to a piece of good drawing paper and use an ink pen to go over the tracing one section at a time, folding it back and blotting the wet ink onto the good paper.  

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Warhol used a traditional ink pen with a nib and not a bamboo one like this, but this is the only one I could get to work, even this poorly.  But Warhol would ink the tracing and transfer the image bit by bit until it was complete, leaving a jittery line with dots and dashes and smudges and smears along the way.  An old classmate from Carnegie Tech where he studied pictorial design, says Warhol discovered this technique one night at a restaurant when he blotted an ink sketch with a paper napkin.  It was a step in the direction of the automation he would wholly embrace in due time, allowing him to work from a source image and enlist assistance to do parts of the process.  He was after a look he described as exactly wrong, making him stand out as an individual in a crowded field, something he had a remarkable knack for throughout his life.

Now that the chocolate mixture is cool, pour it into a blender with another cup of milk and three cups of ice.  Then blend it up and curse at your blender which was too expensive to be executing its task this poorly, but serendipity made its frozen hot chocolate so well and still does, by the way, that Warhol spent nearly $2,000 there in 1957 alone.  He met art directors from ad agencies there, brought friends, and fed his assistants from a menu that did contain things other than sweets.  

Okay, so when it's smooth, pour the mixture into goblets, top with plenty of whipped cream followed by chocolate shavings and enjoy, feeling pretty good about our decision not to have tried to recreate this patriotic ice cream sundae Warhol drew but never made or ate, at least as far as we know.  

Now let's clear the palate with a Coca-Cola, or heck, let's have a few.  By the early 1960s, Warhol was focusing less on his work for hire and more on a way into the art world, making paintings of comic strips and advertisements, everyday things and subject matter he knew very well.  In 1962, he made two large paintings of Coca-Cola bottles, one kind of drippy and expressionistic and the other clean edged and asked his friends which they preferred.

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They liked the hard-edged one that looked less like a real bottle and more like an ad.  So he went with it, capitalizing on this instantly recognizable image, which was emblematic of this post-war time of automation and abundance.  The idea was amplified by repetition, made possible through Warhol's innovation of techniques including stencils, stamps, and silkscreens.  He explained his affection for the beverage, "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.  You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the president drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too."  Cheers.

Another product Andy loved was, of course, Campbell's Tomato Soup, which no Warhol tasting menu would be complete without.  After the Coke bottles, he was seeking a new subject matter and asked friends for ideas.  He did this a lot.  A gallerist friend of Andy's told him to think of the most common, everyday thing he could imagine, like a Campbell's Soup can, and so that's exactly what he set himself to reproduce, working from black and white photographs and cutting stencils by hand.  His first series of individual can paintings represented Campbell's complete product line at the time, and it was exhibited at Ferus Gallery in LA on shelves as a nod to its customary grocery aisle presentation.

In the span of a few months in late '61 and early '62, Warhol painted nearly 50 soup can paintings in all, and eventually landed on silk screening as the most precise and mechanical way to make them.  Two of them were part of the 1962 exhibition, "The New Realists", one of the first to identify what would become known as pop art. 

The same year, he explained in his maddeningly cheeky and simplistic way, "Pop art is a way of liking things."  By the time of the 1964 exhibition, "The American Supermarket", Warhol had become synonymous with the pop movement, selling soup can paintings for $1,500 and actual cans of the soup signed by himself for $650 each.  

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You can likely figure this out on your own, but to turn this concentrate into soup, we combine it with a can of water, mix it up, and heat it, but Campbell's soup wasn't just recognizable, it was a fixture of his youth, served to him by his mother during his childhood in Pittsburgh.  He was born Andrew Warhola, to parents who had immigrated from a small village in what is now Slovakia.  Little Andy was a sickly child and spent a lot of time in bed, reading movie magazines and making art projects with his crafty and encouraging mom, who always had a good supply of Campbell's on hand to prepare for her sons. 

Warhol claimed he ate this every day for 20 years, often with a sandwich, which I'll say this is definitely calling out for, but it seemed un-Andy-like to go to the trouble to make myself.  It's a good thing I saved room for our next course: mushroom.

I've called a friend over to help me with this one, and I've asked her if she'll do the honors of slowly consuming this single raw mushroom.  This is exactly what Warhol asked of his friend, the artist Robert Indiana, in February of 1964, not long after he had begun making films the summer prior.  They came up with the idea together, connecting Andy's new explorations into film with Indiana's preoccupation with the word 'eat', the last words of Indiana's mother before she died and which he included in a number of paintings and signs.  The two artists had apparently been inspired by the lustful eating scene in the movie Tom Jones that had just come out and Indiana had prepared a full spread of food, but Warhol selected just the one mushroom and told his friend to "make it last".  

Andy shot nine silent, 100 foot rolls of film at the standard speed of 24 frames per second, assembled them out of sequence so progress  on the mushroom is seemingly never made, and then played it back at 16 frames per second, giving it a slightly slow motion effect.  The complete film is 39 minutes and when asked why it was so long, Warhol explained helpfully that that was how long it took Indiana to eat the mushroom.  

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There is some action by the way.  Indiana's cat appears at times, but like the majority of Warhol's films, it is a game of endurance, not even intentended to be watched closely or completely.  

And now we have another single food course: banana.  This will no doubt call to mind the cover Warhol created for The Velvet Underground's first album, released in 1967.  The first version instructed you to 'Peel slowly and see', the flesh toned bare banana underneath.  Heyo.  

The band first performed as The Velvet Underground in 1965 and were featured in Warhol's traveling multi-media show "Exploding Plastic Inevitable".  He was technically their manager and paid for their recording sessions, but he didn't really know anything about music, but he did let them do pretty much whatever they wanted, which was wise considering their members included soon-to-be legends Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker.  Andy added Nico to the line-up and the stars aligned to create one of the greatest rock albums of all time, although it wouldn't be recognized as such until much later.  

We must of course peel and eat our banana, which reminds me that Warhol also made two films in 1964 that featured banana-eating, "Mario Banana #1" and "Mario Banana #2".  One was black and white and the other in color, both featuring one of Warhol's superstars, drag queen Mario (?~11:28) eating a banana in that slightly slowed down Warhol way.

Now's as good a time as any to mention that Warhol made a fair amount of art that is sexual in nature, starting during his time as a commercial artist, when he made drawings on the side of many subjects, including men he admired and numerous feet, a fetish he never tried to conceal.  Warhol was very much involved in the gay social scene in New York in the 50s and when his circle of compatriots expanded in the '60s and '70s and he began to make films, sex and sexuality were subjects Warhol was unafraid to address.  

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Oh, and in case you need evidence that Warhol ate bananas sometimes, here you are.  

The 1960s were an extremely productive decade for Warhol and they were fueled not so much by food but by amphetamines.  Warhol took speed, namely obetrol, which was then sold as a dieting pill.  Throughout his life, he worried intensely about his weight and his appearance in general.  Taking speed made him not mind skipping meals and also gave him the energy he apparently needed to turn out hundreds of silk-screen canvases and films, make photographs and recordings, manage a band, and function as a central figure around which an expanding universe of actors and aritsts and employees orbited, but Warhol did eat sometimes.  

He admits in his 1975 book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, that he would, on occasion, but a huge piece of meat and cook it up for dinner.  So let's do it, if only to have one course other than a mushroom that is savory and not sweet.  Make sure your steak gets to room temperature and salt and pepper it sufficiently before plonking it down in a hot pan.  This reminds me that art directors loved Andy's commerical work in the '50s because it "sold the sizzle and not the steak," meaning the product itself was less important than the way it was presented and the lifestyle that went along with it. 

Andy carried that intuitive sense for what sells from advertising into art, and he experienced considerable success monetarily and otherwise.  "Food is my great extravagance," he explained in his Philosophy, "I really spoil myself, but then I try to compensate by scrupulously saving all of my food leftovers and bringing them into the office or leaving them in the street and recycling them there."  

When our steak has a nice crust on both sides, we transfer it to a 400 degree oven for a few minutes to finish it off.  Right before his huge piece of meat is done, Warhol confesses, "I'll break down and have what I wanted for dinner in the first place, bread and jam.  I'm only kidding myself when I go through the motions of cooking protein.  All I ever really want is sugar.  The rest is strictly for appearances."

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Gah, well, I guess it really is about the sizzle, not the steak.  The least we can do is continue to feed our production team, which Andy never neglected to do, whether it was taking them to Serendipity, bringing in leftover steak, or taking them with him to the fancy parties that filled his schedule.  

While we've got the bread out, we might as well introduce you to Andy's version of "cake".  His recipe is as follows: you take some chocolate and you take two pieces of bread and you put the candy in the middle and you make a sandwich of it, "and that would be cake."  I had this giant size Hershey bar, which I couldn't help but use in honor of this work by Warhol, but a thinner one would definitely be better here.  This was truly terrible.  The proportion of chocolate to bread way off, but there's an easy way to make this delicious, with, say some brioche, fancy chocolate, butter, and a turn in a hot pan, but would Andy do that?  No.  

We're gonna end with something healthy, which was a turn Warhol pretty much had to take in his later years.  After his long road to recovery after being shot by Valerie Solanas in 1968, Warhol took to ordering out carrot juice and tea from the health food restaurant Brownies near Union Square, or maybe some sandwiches if he was feeding the many guests who visited his new place of work around the corner, this one called simply The Office. 

It was the hub for Andy's many operations, which had grown to include Interview magazine, and later expanded to TV shows and commissions and more commissions.  The guy was always busy and felt obligated to keep his pals employed.  "I've got a lot of mouths to feed," he'd say, "Someone has to bring home the bacon."  Warhol was warned away from fatty foods because of a bad gallbladder, which doctors recommended he have removed, but he put it off until 1987 after his health had seriously declined, and after finally submitting to surgery, died in the hospital shortly thereafter at the age of 58.

You're probably noticing our Warhol menu is missing some things, like one of the impossible recipes in his cookbook Wild Raspberries, made with Suzie Frankfurt, and Andy's love of  old-fashioned lunch counters like Chock Full o'Nuts, where in the '40s and '50s, he would cream cheese with walnut sandwiches on date nut bread, and the psychedelic TV ad he made for The Underground Sundae at Schraff's.  

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There's also his ultimately unsuccessful development of a chain of Andy Mats, which he called "the restaurant for the lonely person.  You get your food," he explained, "And then you take your tray into a booth and watch television."  And yes, there's the clip of Warhol eating a Burger King burger, but that was filmmaker Jorgen Leth's idea, part of Leth's 1982 film "66 Scenes From America", and it's pretty clear Warhol did not enjoy it all that much, but if Warhol's actual eating habits tell us anything, it's that he was unafraid to enjoy the industrialized foodstuffs that he and his fellow mid-20th century Americans were raised on, and that he venerated in his art. 

He liked processed foods.  The way they're mass produced, artfully packaged, distributed, marketed, and sold.  He showed us the machinery that makes it all work, and our critical role as consumers of it.  It might be ugly and unrefined, but it's the ground that, for better or worse, we share.  It was uneasy news to sit with then and remains uneasy news today, when his proclamations still ring true and the world he mirrored for us still exists all around.  

Thanks to our Patrons for supporting The Art Assignment, especially our grand master of the arts, Vincent Apa. If you'd like a Warhol history without gaping omissions, read some books or start by watching our Case for Warhol, and if you'd like to learn more about the music theory, production, history, and culture behind our favorite songs and artists, check out Sound Field, a new music education show from PBS Digital Studios, hosted by (?~17:50) and LA Buckner.