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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fifty years after artist Andy Warhol created one of the art world's most iconic images with his red and white painting of a tomato soup can, the company that inspired the work is selling limited-edition soup with designer labels.
Campbell's Soup has launched a series of four canned tomato soups with labels that pay homage to Warhol's 1962 work of art "32 Campbell's Soup Cans."
Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Warhol's first solo exhibition, about 1.2 million cans of the tomato soup will be sold in Target stores across the United States for 75 cents each.
The company's design team, working with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, created four different labels in vibrant combinations such as pink and teal for the tomato soup that went on sale this month.
"This is not something that we do everyday," said Liesl Henderson, director of communications for Campbell's Soup, adding that the Warhol Foundation was very protective of the artist's legacy.
"But we've maintained a collaborative relationship with the Warhol Foundation over the years, and there's a fascination, it seems, with all things Warhol."
Michael Hermann, the foundation's director of licensing, confirmed that it was very selective about whom it worked with.
"What continues to amaze me is that Warhol's influence on our culture has only grown since his untimely death 25 years ago," said Hermann. "This is the true testament to his genius."
Jonathan Thorn, Campbell's corporate archivist, described the pop artist who died in 1987 as a visionary who revolutionized contemporary art.
"Things like that had never been done before. No one painted products in the 1950s and 1960s," he said.
Warhol, who maintained a life-long affinity for both commerce and capitalism and used the dollar sign as a favored motif, probably would have approved of the venture.
"In many ways, Andy Warhol thought of himself as a brand during his lifetime," Hermann said. "It is natural to extend his well-established legacy into licensing."
The four soup can labels all bear famous Warhol quotes on the back, including, "Pop art is for everyone."
"I can only imagine that he would have loved the idea that everyone can get their own piece of pop art at Target for just 75 cents," Hermann said.
Some enterprising consumers who have snatched up sets of the soup cans are offering them for sale on web sites such as eBay, where some have sold for more than $50.
The limited edition label soups coincide with the opening this month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of the widely anticipated exhibit "Regarding Warhol, Sixty Artists, Fifty Years." It features 45 works by Warhol along with art from 60 others who have referenced, reinterpreted or been inspired by him.
Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Patricia Reaney and David Brunnstrom