American artist Jasper Johns created this Neo-Dada sculpture in 1960. It literally is what the title says it is- painted bronze, more specifically, oil paint on bronze. Johns cast the beer cans in bronze and painted them to look exactly like beer cans.
Other subject matters of the same title exist, showing how Johns experimented with context and highlighted everyday objects, not for what they are, but for that object to become something else.
The premise of the work was inspired by a joke in the art world. Willem de Kooning once said that Leo Castellini, a New York art dealer, could anything, even beer cans. After Johns made this piece, Castellini did just that. Painted Bronze sold for $900.
However, behind the joke is something personal. The cans stand for Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, a fellow artist with whom Johns had a romantic relationship with for eight years. The two men met in the early 1950s and their relationship developed rather quickly. Their relationship ended rather negatively and neither saw nor spoke to one another for over ten years. They also both left New York after the break-up and moved to the South, separately of course. This is significant because one of the cans says “Florida” on it, which is where Rauschenberg moved to in 1960 when they separated.
Also interesting is how the cans represent the personalities of Johns and Rauschenberg. One can is closed and heavy, like Johns and the other is open and light like Rauschenberg. That is, the lid of one is punctured and the other is not. This sad, autobiographical fact is only communicated to a few people through the work.