09/14/2012 01:05 pm ET

Andy Warhol vs. Robert Cenedella: How Branding Made Warhol (And Campbell's Soup) A Star

Say the words "Campbell's Soup" and sure enough, far before we imagine cubes of pale chicken floating in a watery broth, we likely think of a painting by Andy Warhol. Warhol's can has become an icon, not just of Campbell's soup, which it is, but of serial imagery -- cheap American pleasures and fascination with the most menial of ideas and tastes. Yet although Warhol and soup will forever be related in our minds, he actually wasn't the first to render a soup can as a Pop Art piece.

A recent article by Marvin Kitman explored the epic soup battle between Andy Warhol and his lesser known contemporary Robert Cenedella. While Warhol went with Campbell's, Cenendella chose Heinz, creating a 72x60-inch painting entitled "Heinz 57."

Both Target and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are honoring Warhol this month, in an appropriately Warholian elimination of the space between consumerism and art. Target has released limited edition Warhol inspired soup cans while the Met is exhibiting 60 artists influenced by the Pop Master. To be honest, not only had we not heard of Cenedella, but we didn't even know Heinz made soup! Looks like Warhol turned out to be the victor.

And yet Kitman insists that not only was Cenedella a better artist, but Heinz a better soup. According to Kitman, the two budding painters debating soup quality over drinks in SoHo multiple times, a priceless image to be sure. Yet while the two were getting buzzed discussing which soup was paramount, Campbell's was busy using Warhol's work as their ticket to soup-perstardom. The Campbell's marketing team ate up what Warhol was dishing out, turning his sarcastic commentary on consumerism into a brilliant cultural takeover. In Kitman's words, praising the overlooked Cenedella-Heinz combo: "The painting is better. The soup is better. The only thing better about Warhol's tomato soup was the marketing campaign."

Are we traumatized that Warhol's soup can was perhaps not the original soup can? And does this make Cenedella the rightful owner to a Met homage? Not really. In fact, we kind of love the fact that the man who leveled the playing field between original and copy turned out to be a copycat after all. Maybe Warhol's soup can isn't the most authentic, but it was he who challenged the importance of authenticity in the first place. And what could be more fitting to raise Warhol to stardom than the insidious helping hand of a banal corporation? Warhol's creation myth may have been damning if it didn't actualize the lessons his works dictated all along. As far as the paintings go, although Kitman declares Cenedella's work has more soul while Warhol's remains vacuous, they are both painting soup at the end of the day. Warhol's work is a bit dry, it's true, but that bored and biting tone seems far more appropriate than full on exaltation.

Roberta Smith wrote a less-than-enthused review of "Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years" at the Met, in part due to the fact that Warhol's influence was too widespread. "That it can seem that just about any artist from the last three decades could have been included testifies either to Warhol’s influence or the show’s shapelessness," she wrote. While certainly not music to the curator's ears, Smith's words depict the immense power a tin soup can had on the future of art, a power that doesn't look like it will let up anytime soon thanks to artists like Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Cindy Sherman and 57 others.

What do you think, readers: Is Warhol overrated?

See Target's Warhol-inspired soup below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Campbell's Soup