New York City Building
April 27 - September 7
Fifty years ago, architect Philip Johnson invited the edgy up-and-coming artist Andy Warhol to produce one of ten commissions for the facade of the World’s Fair New York State Pavilion—Warhol’s first and ultimately last public art project. Working in the midst of his “Death and Disaster” depictions of car crashes and race riots, while taking his initial photobooth strips of socialites, friends, and, of course, himself, Warhol devised a work for the pavilion that would merge the profane and the portrait: blown-up silk-screened mug shots of the thirteen most-wanted men taken straight from the City of New York’s police department. As the story goes, someone in power had objections, perhaps to its coarse aesthetics, thinly veiled homoeroticism, or simply the banal subject material. By the time the World’s Fair opened on April 22, 1964, the 13 Most Wanted Men was covered in a thick coat of silver paint (a proposal to replace the work with twenty-five identical panels of a beaming World’s Fair President Robert Moses was, alas, rejected out of hand).
The making of the work, its quick demise, and its afterlife in Warhol’s oeuvre make up this meticulously researched and precisely installed exhibition. The fascinating murder mystery of the Men unfolds chronologically, weaving in appearances by potential culprits Philip Johnson, Robert Moses, Nelson Rockefeller, and most enigmatic of all, Warhol himself. Nine silk-screened portraits of the Men that were made the summer after the debacle form the core of the exhibition, which is supplemented by an array of other works by Warhol, such as Little Electric Chair, 1964–65, and Nelson Rockefeller, 1967, and archival materials documenting Warhol’s year of production on the pavilion, the World’s Fair exhibition, and the reception of the controversial destruction of the work. By the end of 1964, for Warhol, “Death and Disaster” had transformed into a Flowers elegy and the Men had mutated into the screen-test series 13 Most Beautiful Boys, 1964–66. What remains in this exhibition are the relics of an astounding transitional moment in the artist’s work.