Andy Warhol – Green Coca-Cola Bottles (1962)

With his ad nauseam repetitions of commercial items like Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell Soup cans, you could easily think that Andy Warhol’s art was a social critique of mindless, impersonal consumerism. What better way to epitomize globalization and the greedy corporate world, after all, than by evoking the ubiquitous Coke bottle?

As it turns out, the American artist was seeking beauty and comfort in the banality of everyday objects. If everything is the same and nothing stands out, then there is no hierarchy, no “better” or “worse”; there are no winners or losers. Most of all, there are no outcasts, a role that had been assigned to Warhol all his life.

In his view, democracy and consumerism were interlinked, the same mass-produced items being available to everyone, rich and poor – an idealistic perspective which he expressed in this famous statement:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and 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 than the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it and you know it.”

Andy Warhol - Green Coca-Cola Bottles
Andy Warhol – Green Coca-Cola Bottles (1962), acrylic, screenprint, and graphite pencil on canvas

There isn’t much to be said about Green Coca-Cola Bottles. Warhol used this consumerist symbol in many of his other works, as well. Here, the 112 almost identical Coke bottles displayed on 7 rows, one next to another, with the Coca-Cola logo beneath them, resemble an advertising poster that is invoking mass-production, overconsumption and saturation.

As a former commercial artist and illustrator, no one could have been a better ambassador for Pop Art – a movement in the 1950s that bridged art with popular, mass culture – than Warhol. And yet, I find something deeply disturbing in his endless repetitions, an unapologetic lack of effort. By focusing on the concept instead of the visual imagery, perhaps he was eager to confront us with overflowing banality and a reassessment of our notions of art and beauty.  Is a Coca-Cola bottle beautiful? Democratic? Why? Why not? Could it be art? Whether you love him or hate him, Warhol at least makes you consider your values and your expectations of art. Maybe you will find yourself open to challenges in your way of thinking or maybe you will draw a line in the sand. Anything goes.

10 thoughts on “Andy Warhol – Green Coca-Cola Bottles (1962)

    1. I thought it was a very interesting idea too, that Coke would symbolize democracy. Also extremely naive… I wonder if Warhol would have felt differently about this if he were still alive today. These mass-produced items now have a very negative connotation in our minds. But Coca-Cola is just as popular today.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. There’s also that sticky issue with conceptual art that serves an idea when the idea in question turns out to be bankrupt or offensive. I won’t, but I could write an essay about why the idea of Coke being a democratizer is probably, with hindsight, offensively stupid (ex., it’s exportation to the developing world has led to diabetes epidemics). At best it’s a kind of “trickle down” theory where what we all share is also trivial (and trickle down, once one compares it with being pissed on, seems the same thing, which it is).

    Warhol had a clever aesthetic and all, and made being a celebrity into a performance art piece. He is a pioneer of LARPing. He did innovate in different medias, and so I think his work is legitimate, it’s just not my favorite by a long shot, in the same way I love the B-52s or DEVO, but they aren’t in it with Zeppelin or the Beatles because they don’t strike to do as much and find an easy solution.

    The Coke bottles are also “camp”, as is so much of Warhol’s work. His ironic remove and recognition that he’s serving up an artificial reality to begin with, and nothing more (there’s no deep psychological or spiritual probing here) makes him an obvious predecessor for Postmodernism.

    For me his work is like a comedy, or a desert. It adds something to life, but I could live without it. There is other much deeper and nourishing art out there. But, of course, fashion as art would appeal to the richest buyers.

    In the long run he’ll probably fall in ranking from a super artist to a B-artist. Seeing him as one of the best of the 20th century is like when you are more interested in the commercials than in a movie on television. Either the movie sucks or the commercials are really good, but here it rather just seems a preference for commercials over movies no matter the content. But I tend to be on the other end of the spectrum and come to like Warhol begrudgingly. He doesn’t give me much to look at or really to think about. That said, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without Andy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, good points. The analogy to being more interested in the commercials than in the movie while watching TV pretty much sums up his popularity. I hesitated a lot whether to feature him at all, since I’m not a fan (more like neutral), but there is something definitely there, behind the banality. He certainly had his own aesthetics and I can sympathize that for him art was some sort of coping mechanism too, through which he indulged his obsessions.

      Like

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