The Andy Warhol Museum has mounted an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the Warhol scandal at the 1964 NY World’s Fair. 13 Most Wanted Men: Andy Warhol and the 1964 World’s Fair examines the controversy surrounding Warhol’s work commissioned for the facade of the Fair’s New York State Pavilion, in which the artist chose to enlarge mug shots of criminals. Fearing scandal, officials painted over Warhol’s mural days after it was installed, leaving only a large silver panel visible when the Fair opened.
Warhol’s large mural was intended to hang on the outside of the Circarama, a circular cinema 100 feet (30 m) in diameter. Intending to depict “something to do with New York”, and taking inspiration from Marcel Duchamp’s 1923 work Wanted, $2,000 Reward (in which Duchamp put his own photograph in a wanted poster), Warhol decided to print large-scale copies of images from a booklet published on 1 February 1962 by the New York Police Department, entitled ” The Thirteen Most Wanted”, showing 22 head-and-shoulder mug shots of the wanted men. Silkscreens for the panels of the mural were created in early 1964, printed in silkscreen ink on Masonite, and the completed 20 feet (6.1 m) 5-by-5 square (including three blank frames) was installed at the site by 15 April. Warhol stated that the work cost $4,000 to create.
Government officials quickly objected to the images and on 16 April – two weeks before the fair was due to open – Philip Johnson, the architect of the pavilion, told Warhol that he must remove or replace the work within 24 hours. The stated reason was that the Governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller was concerned that the images – mostly depicting men of Italian descent – would be insulting to an important segment of his electorate. Other reasons later reported for the work being painted over included Warhol’s dissatisfaction with the work, or with the way it had been hung, or his concern at possible legal liability as one of the men had been pardoned.
“The mural was an extraordinarily bold proposal for the pavilion. Warhol was in the early stages of his career and the commission represented a high profile opportunity,” explained Nicholas Chambers, the Milton Fine Curator of Art at The Warhol. “However, rather than propose a Pop subject associated with his practice at that time, such as Campbell’s Soup, he decided to depict a group of criminals wanted by the NYPD.”
The present-day exhibition includes paintings Warhol produced later that year from the same screens used to make the pavilion mural. It also contains documents and ephemera that tell the back-story of the mural and the mystery of its demise. “The exhibition looks at the material evidence relating to this unique episode in Warhol’s practice. It draws on artworks and archival materials in an attempt to unpack the circumstances surrounding the work’s conception and ultimate censorship,” said Chambers.
The exhibition 13 Most Wanted Men: Andy Warhol and the 1964 World’s Fair runs from September 27-4 January 2015 At The Warhol Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania