Pop art pervaded the culture of the 1960s and became intertwined with the lifestyle of its time more completely than any aesthetic movement of the Twentieth Century. This breadth of impact was no accident since the inspiration for Pop art was itself derived from popular culture, whose accessibility was unprecedented in modern times. In turn, Coca-Cola  [Large Coca-Cola] is an icon that announced the arrival of Pop art just as surely as Pablo Picasso's Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon of 1907 announced the arrival of Cubism, both becoming cultural signposts for the Twentieth Century.
By the 1950s and 1960s, advertising was the field in which media and consumerism met, feeding one upon the other. With the economic boom of the post-war years, the manufacture of consumer products reached unparalleled heights and the newspapers and television that could popularize the products proliferated in the burgeoning economy. Increased leisure time allowed for more readers and viewers, and advertising revenues fed the mass media that developed. Andy Warhol was no stranger to the world of advertising and print, beginning his career as a commercial artist in New York, doing advertisements and illustrations for various magazines, department stores and record companies beginning in 1949.
Despite Warhol's great success as a commercial artist, his true interest was a career in fine art. With his earliest Pop paintings, such as Coca-Cola  [Large Coca-Cola] from 1962, Warhol pays homage to his previous work in the advertising realm – reprocessing a powerful commercial image and elevating it to the realm of High Art. Just as Roy Lichtenstein's painting of women based on cartoon images was a cheeky reference to the stodgy genre of portraiture, the cursive logo and patent registration for Coca-Cola floats like a narrative bubble next to the "figure'' of Warhol's bottle. With this "portrait'' of commerce, Warhol examined and highlighted the relationship between big business – the market – and the public through this enlarged icon of consumerism. Warhol took an egalitarian view of advertising and consumerism, "What's grand about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest...you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and, just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke." (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, New York, 1975, pp. 100-101)
Throughout his career Warhol made wry commentary on the debate between originality and reproduction, the role of the artist, and the modern condition of repetitive imagery. Warhol's early black and white Pop paintings expose the reality of banal objects. The Coca-Cola bottle was a perfect subject for Warhol – ordinary, yet pervasive as a mass produced object, the Coca-Cola bottle is loaded with provocative symbolism of the capitalism of America. Andy Warhol's deadpan depictions of objects such as the Coca Cola bottle have become wedded in the American imagination, a serendipitous intersection of art and commercial branding that resulted in a landmark moment in American popular culture and a sea-change in the way contemporary art was made. The Coke bottle was so ubiquitous it was an ideal vehicle for Warhol to document the consumerist impulses which permeated the very fabric of his age.
Warhol's painting was clearly a reaction to the work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg whose works used everyday motifs and materials from the urban world to provoke debate between representation and perception. Rauschenberg also incorporated Coke bottles in his work, specifically in his Combine Coca-Cola Plan from 1958. Heiner Bastian notes that Warhol "must have seen that Rauschenberg's works operated according to a hierarchy-free maxim which regarded the physical, extra-aesthetic object and the painterly gesture as the 'only subject', and that in Rauschenberg's works the material of the everyday urban world was a suitable vehicle for unadulterated, free communication." (Exh. Cat., Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie (and travelling), Andy Warhol Retrospective, 2001, p. 22) Bastian goes on to note that Warhol's works, "address the question of ordinariness on the level of the least remarkable, insignificant mass products very differently from the ways favored by Johns and Rauschenberg." (Ibid, p. 22)
The present work is the last of four paintings of individual Coca-Cola bottles. For all four of these works Warhol used source imagery from advertisements. Three of the paintings, including the present work, appear to be based on an ad from the Pittsburgh Byzantine Catholic World. The first two canvases from this series, competed in 1961, are gestural and border on unfinished in appearance, retaining vestiges of the expressionist hegemony of the earlier 1950s generation of painters. Coca-Cola , now in the collection of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, in particular, presents a brushier rendition of the black and white depiction of the subject. In his 1980 manuscript, POPism: The Warhol '60's, the artist recalls a visit to his studio by Emile de Antonio, a documentary film director and producer and a close friend of Warhol. For the art community, de Antonio's most significant film was Painters Painting from 1972 that chronicled the art scene with interviews and studio visits with many artists of the day. De Antonio introduced Warhol to his first major dealer, Eleanor Ward of Stable Gallery in New York. Yet his most critical contribution to the art world and to Pop art was his auspicious visit to the home of his friend, Andy :
"At five o'clock one particular afternoon the doorbell rang and De came in and sat down. I poured Scotch for us, and then I went over to where two paintings I'd done, each about six feet high and three feet wide, were propped, facing the wall. I turned them around and placed them side by side against the wall and then I backed away to take a look at them myself. One of them was a Coke bottle with Abstract Expressionist hash marks halfway up the side. The second one was just a stark, outlined Coke bottle in black and white. I didn't say a thing to De. I didn't have to – he knew what I wanted to know. 'Well, look, Andy,' he said after staring at them for a couple of minutes. 'One of these is a piece of shit, simply a little bit of everything. The other is remarkable – it's our society, it's who we are, it's absolutely beautiful and naked, and you ought to destroy the first one and show the other.'" (Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism: The Warhol '60s, New York, 1980, pp. 5-6)
From their earliest moments, the importance and demand for the graphically pure black and white rendition of the Coke bottle subject was clear. Coca-Cola  was purchased almost immediately after its completion by distinguished art patrons Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Hirsh of Beverly Hills, and exhibited as early as 1963. The painting was acquired from Irving Blum's Ferus Gallery which was the site of Warhol's first solo exhibition, the infamous Campbell's Soup Can show in July and August 1964. From this first great public notice of his Pop style, the apparent simplicity and naiveté of Warhol's work, and the initial criticism of it as too readily recognizable or literal to qualify as art, has long since been refuted and confounded in spectacular fashion. As one who appreciated irony, Warhol could enjoy the controversy that attended his ultimate recognition and success, as well as his deeply significant influence on contemporaries and younger artists that followed him in the 20th century.
The third and fourth paintings from this series, executed in 1962, are virtually identical, however, when Warhol returned to the subject for the fourth time, he produced a more monumental version – the present work is almost a foot taller than the third Coca-Cola painting. There are a few differences between the present image and its source advertisement. In the ad, the Coca-Cola trademark is hovering above the bottle where as in the painting the position is lower relative to the bottle. Warhol projected his source image onto his canvases and it is likely that Warhol painted this work in two stages – due to the repositioning and sizing of the trademark and the bottle. Coca-Cola  lacks the underdrawing of Coca-Cola , perhaps explained by the different mediums used for the works; the less soluble casein medium for the former, and acrylic paint for the later. The acrylic paint dried more quickly and required Warhol to be prepared before executing the work. Warhol additionally planned for this painting with preparatory drawings (see Lot 18). Like other black and white paintings, such as Where's your Rupture, 1961, the Coke bottle paintings are cool, sober images, isolated on the artist's canvas. These early paintings also share the use of source material in the printed form rather than the source photographs that would eventually be used in Warhol's work.
The present work has a less free-hand style than Coca-Cola  and Coca-Cola , emphasized by the use of Letraset letters for the patent notice. Warhol's move to the more mechanical is reflective of the innovative silkscreen work he was experimenting with at the time – the medium that would eventually lead the artist's studio to be christened the "Factory". The silkscreen technique allowed Warhol to create a seriality in his works that defines the artist's most fertile years. The present work is a direct antecedent to the artist's silkscreen paintings - Warhol would again choose the image of the Coke bottle in his large scale multiple screened work, 210 Coca-Cola Bottles also from 1962. Warhol would eventually favor the mass production possibilities of the silkscreen to distance himself from the traditional role of the artist and to create works of repeated imagery, again employing an aesthetic style in keeping with the media-drenched society of the mid-20th century. Warhol with the iconic Coca-Cola , was in the nascent stages of developing the ironic and detached manner in which his choice of technique and style would serve as wry comment on his subject matter.
Acrylic, pencil and Letraset on canvas
Oakland, Oakland Art Museum, Pop Art USA, September 1963, p. 55, illustrated
Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum, The Fellows - A Selection, March - April 1969
Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum, Painting in New York, 1944 to 1969, November 1969 - January 1970, cat. no. 49, illustrated (titled Coke Bottle)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago; London, Hayward Gallery; Cologne, Museum Ludwig; Venice, Palazzo Grassi; Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, February 1989 - September 1990, cat. no. 91, illustrated
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Guggenheim Museum and the Art of this Century, June - September 1992
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Tradition of the New: Postwar Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Museum Collection, May - September 1994
Wolsburg, Kunstmuseum; Vienna, Kunsthalle; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Bilbao, Guggenheim; Oporto, Museu Serralves, Andy Warhol: A Factory, October 1998 - April 2000 (Wolfsburg only)
81 3/4 X 56 3/4 in. 207.6 x 144.1 cm.
John Coplans, Andy Warhol, London, 1970, p. 44, illustrated
Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, cat. no. 529, illustrated
Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Warhol, 1971, fig. 29, p. 48, illustrated
Hilton Kramer, "End of an 'Era' Andy Warhol," Encounter, September 1973, p. 50, illustrated
Rainer Crone, Das Bildnerische Werk Andy Warhols, Berlin, 1976, cat. no. 879
Exh. Cat., Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Amerikaner: Kunst aus USA nach 1950. Eine didaktische Ausstellung: Bilder, 1977, p. 40, illustrated
Bradford R. Collins, "The Metaphysic Nosejob: The Remaking of Warhola, 1960 – 1968", Arts Magazine, vol. 62, no. 2, February 1988, fig. 8, illustrated
David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, pl. 76, illustrated
Exh. Cat., New York, Grey Art Gallery and Study Center (and travelling), "Success is a job in New York..." : The Early Art and Business of Andy Warhol, 1989, fig. no. 1c, illustrated
Carter Ratcliff, "Andy Warhol: Pro and Contra," Art International, no. 7, Summer 1989, p. 75, illustrated
Lynne Cooke, "The Independent Group: British and American Pop Art, a 'Palimpcestuous' Legacy," in Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik, Modern Art and Popular Culture: Readings in High & Low, New York, 1990, fig. 219, illustrated
Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, Andy Warhol System: Pub, Pop, Rock, Jouy-en-Josas, 1990, p. 30, illustrated (cropped image)
Hector Obalk, Andy Warhol n'est pas un grand artiste, Paris, 1990, p. 29, illustrated
Marc Le Bot, "Andy Warhol: Le dandysme aujourd'hui," Colóquio Artes, vol. 32, no. 87, December 1990, p. 50, illustrated
Lothar Romain, Andy Warhol, Munich, 1993, no. 48, illustrated
Trewin Copplestone, The Life and Works of Andy Warhol, Avonmouth, 1995, p. 12, illustrated
Carter Ratcliff, The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art, New York, 1996, fig. no. 57, illustrated
Philippe Trétiack, Warhol's America, London, 1997, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, Twentieth Century American Art: the Ebsworth Collection, 2000, p. 268, fig. 1, illustrated in color
Georg Frei and Neil Printz, eds., Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculpture 1961-1963, Volume 1, New York, 2002, cat. no. 190, p. 165, illustrated
Stable Gallery, New York
Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles
Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Hirsh, Beverly Hills (acquired circa 1962 – 1963)
Christie's, New York, November 8, 1983, lot 21
Acquired by the present owner from the above