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But is it art? Painter wins Campbell soup art contest at Warhol Museum

October 22, 1997

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Dino Sistilli basked in more than just 15 minutes of fame after winning a contest inspired by the pop art of Andy Warhol and sponsored by Campbell Soup Co.

Sistilli of Woodbury, N.J., clinched first place in the ``Art of Soup″ contest, which marked the 100th birthday of Campbell’s soup and the 35th anniversary of Warhol’s famous tomato soup can painting. He received his honor and a $10,000 check at a ceremony Tuesday at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

He designed a sheet of commemorative postage stamps with images of different flavors of Campbell’s soup. His creation will remain on display at the museum along with several other contest submissions.

``This is something that Andy would have felt really proud of,″ said John Warhola, one of Warhol’s brothers and a contest judge.

More than 5,000 people submitted entries honoring Warhol’s 1962 painting, which smashed the wall separating fine art and advertising and spawned an artistic movement that continues today. Sistilli was one of four finalists in what proved to be a case of art imitating art imitating life.

``It’s come full circle,″ Campbell spokesman Kevin Lowery said.

Thirty-five years ago, Lowery said, Campbell executives ordered lawyers to investigate when they first learned that Warhol was painting a version of their revered tomato soup can.

``These stodgy old businessmen didn’t understand this pop art craze,″ Lowery said.

Now, Campbell’s soup is known even in countries where it isn’t sold, due entirely to Warhol’s art, he said. Warhol’s revolutionary red and white image has itself become so useful as advertising that Campbell organized the contest to capitalize on the painting’s popularity.

Thomas Sokolowski, director of the museum, saw no irony there.

``’The best kind of art is business art, and I want to be a business artist,‴ Sokolowski quoted Warhol as saying.

Warhol, who grew up in Pittsburgh, died at 58 in 1987.

The contest’s other finalists included a 2-foot-high statue of a robot ``Soup-R-Hero″ fashioned from soup cans and spoons, and a painting of a jar of Minestrone soup gushing steam that spells out the phrase ``Mmm-mmm-good.″

The robot’s builder, Robert Merryweather of Playa Del Rey, Calif., called himself ``a science-fiction kind of guy″ who was startled to have finished as well as he did.

``Now I’m so inspired by it that all these artistic things inside me want to burst out,″ said the 51-year-old musician and photographer.

High school art teacher Debra Eastlack, 43, of Absecon, N.J., described her steaming Minestrone as a tribute to Warhol’s originality.

A 100-word poem made Suzy St. George, 11, of Shoreline, Wash., the youngest finalist. ``Campbell’s Soup is perfect for when I’m really cold, I wouldn’t trade my Campbell’s Soup for a pot of gold,″ read part of her ode.

Suzy said her first-ever plane trip, a five-hour flight from Seattle, was more exciting than the $5,000 she and each of the other second-place winners received.

Lowery said the contest aimed to inspire unknown young artists, but it was Sistilli _ the oldest finalist at 70 _ who emerged the winner.

Sistilli used a razor knife and camera to reproduce tiny pictures of soup jars on a sheet of stamps. The result looked something like Warhol’s own paintings of multiple images.

``I wanted to do what he did, to duplicate these things,″ Sistilli said. ``This is not something that happened in an hour’s time. I experimented with everything.″

Other submissions were a stained-glass lamp shaped like a Campbell’s soup can, a baseball bat engraved with a Campbell’s logo and a pair of ruby-sequined slippers with the caption, ``There’s no taste like home.″

As for why Warhol ever developed a passion for Campbell’s tomato soup, his brother Paul Warhola said it was Depression-era economics.

``Tomato soup was a dime a can,″ he said. ``It was cheap, so that was the favorite. Mother always had it around.″

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