When I was named editor in 2002 of the Standard-Examiner in Utah, I inherited an office the size of a Robeson Ranch villa. A co-worker walked into the stark office as I was getting settled, and looking at the blank walls and shelves, commented: “Where’s your sophisticated artwork? I’ve seen better-decorated racquetball courts.”

At home for lunch that day I came across a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and decided it could be my first high-end art addition to my office.

I took the can back to work and placed it prominently on a shelf above my desk.

My wife eventually decorated my office with posters of scenic Southwestern locales, but the soup can remained, and sometimes it became a conversation piece.

Visitors to my office who were daring enough asked why there was a soup can above my desk. I mentioned it was an unoriginal Andy Warhol worth hundreds of cents.

The older visitors got it, but the younger ones would give me puzzled looks, not having any idea who Andy Warhol was and why a soup can would be considered art.

Andy Warhol was a leading figure in the visual art statement known as pop art in the 1960s. His works explored the relationship between artistic expression, advertising and celebrity culture. Some of his best-known works include the silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s Tomato Soup Cans.

As a journalist I couldn’t afford an original Warhol, so I went with his subject matter instead. I guess I was making a statement against the commercialization of the statement against artistic commercialization.

I was reminded of my past contribution to office art when I read that the most talked-about artwork last week was titled “Comedian” — a spotty banana duct-taped to a wall by artist Maurizio Cattelan.

The Associated Press reported two pieces quickly sold for $120,000 before the price was raised to $150,000 for the third piece. The bananas were bought at a local grocery store. No instructions were given on what to do as the banana ages.

Last weekend, performance artist David Datuna removed the banana from the wall, unpeeled it and took a bite as a large crowd documented it with their phones.

He called his performance “Hungry Artist.”

The patrons never actually purchased the banana art, just a certificate of authenticity that allowed them to duct-tape their own banana to a wall at home and display the certificate with it.

They could have done that without shelling out $120K, but I guess the appeal, as you might say, was to possess the signed certificate from the artist.

In 1975 advertising executive Gary Dahl became a millionaire when he created a novelty item in time for Christmas called the “Pet Rock.” The stones, gathered from a beach in Mexico, were marketed like live pets, in custom cardboard boxes, complete with straw and breathing holes and a training manual. They sold for $4 apiece. The fad lasted for six months, but 1.5 million items were sold.

According to Wikipedia, Dahl said he got the idea after listening to his friends complain about taking care of their pets. A rock would not need to be fed, walked, bathed or groomed, and it would not die, become sick or be disobedient.

Like the banana on the wall, those who bought the Pet Rocks weren’t actually interested in the rock. It was the idea and the packaging that sold.

The owner’s manual was full of puns and gags that referred to the rock as an actual pet. It was meant as a gag gift.

I remember a news story in which a department store manager mentioned that people were actually shoplifting the stones out of the carry-boxes. He had a clerk go out to the parking lot and find a bunch of rocks to replace the stolen ones and no one was the wiser.

I didn’t have any Andy Warhol certificate, so I guess my tomato soup display was nothing more than canned art. But I use it in my own performance art career. I love it with a grilled cheese sandwich.


Contact Andy Howell at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.