Still, Hopps and Blum floated the idea of showing Warhol’s work at Ferus. The artist, with his lifelong attraction to movie stars, was particularly intrigued by the West Hollywood location. They agreed to keep in touch.
Several months later, Blum visited Warhol again and stumbled across three Campbell’s soup canvases leaning against the wall. A lightbulb went off in his head. “What about my showing these soup can paintings in L.A.?” the gallerist asked Warhol.
“He hesitated,” Blum recalled. “I said, ‘Andy, movie stars come into the gallery.’ A total lie because movie stars never came into the gallery.”
But the fib worked. On July 9, 1962—a year and a half later—the first exhibition of Warhol’s paintings opened at Ferus Gallery. There were 32 canvases in total, from minestrone to clam chowder. “I remember asking Andy how he’d describe the paintings,” Hopps said. “He gave me a funny smile, and he said, ‘I think they’re portraits, don’t you?’ It was an interesting, ambiguous answer—as though he didn’t distinguish between people and things.”
Blum had the idea to display the canvases on thin shelves rather than hanging them on the wall, the fine-art equivalent of cans lining the supermarket aisle. Hopps’s then-wife, Shirley, remembered thinking, “It was one of those times when we knew we were onto something.” But collectors didn’t seem to agree—Blum had managed to sell just one canvas, with another four on hold, when he decided to do something drastic. He was going to buy all the paintings himself, keeping the series intact. He cancelled the four holds, bought back the fifth, and made a deal with Warhol to buy the entire set on layaway: $100 a month for 10 months.