In 2014, exactly 50 years will have passed since a then-up-and-coming Pop provocateur named Andy Warhol sparked a minor scandal at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. As part of a prominent set of public commissions for the Philip Johnson-designed New York State Pavilion’s exterior, Warhol chose to enlarge mug shots from a NYPD booklet featuring the 13 most wanted criminals of 1962. Forming a chessboard of front and profile views, 13 Most Wanted Men was installed by April 15, 1964, and painted over by Fair officials’ direction with silver paint a few days later. When the Fair opened to the public, all that was visible was a large silver square.
Later in the summer of 1964, Warhol produced 20 Most Wanted Men paintings with the screens he had used to make the mural. These works will form the core of the exhibition, which will launch at the Queens Museum (only 200 yards from the original site of Warhol’s mural) in April 2014, marking the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair. The works will travel to The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh thereafter.
Although, as Warhol’s one and only public artwork, 13 Most Wanted Men is often considered an anomaly, it is in fact closely linked to other works made that spring. The exhibition will use the 13 Most Wanted Men to provide a lens onto Warhol during a key moment in his career; and use the circumstances that led to the mural’s destruction to examine Warhol’s milieu and how it functioned with and against the Establishment, embodied in master builder Robert Moses, New York State governor Nelson Rockefeller, and the ever-intriguing architect Philip Johnson.
This exhibition is developed collaboratively by the Queens Museum and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted Men and the 1964 World’s Fair is made possible by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.