Pop provocateur Andy Warhol was never a stranger to controversy. In 1964, as part of a series of commissions for the New York State Pavilion, Warhol was commissioned to work on an installation that would be displayed on the face of the pavilion, which was to serve as one of the main venues of the fair.
The theme of the festival was to explore peace through understanding and man’s place in the shrinking and changing world. As such, the fair was supposed to be fun for the whole family. So it came as a surprise when Andy Warhol enlarged mug shots of 13 most wanted criminals photographed by the New York Police Department in 1962. The work caused quite a stir and scandal in the city. A few days after the mural was installed, it was covered up with silver paint a few days before the fair opened to the public as per the decision of the organizers of the show.
Later on, that summer, after the fair had already ended, Warhol produced another set of the same work with the most wanted men as his subjects. He used the same silk screens that he had used for the original mural to form 20 separate smaller scale works that were only recently brought together in 2014 for the first time since Warhol created them.
Art lovers claim that the mural was painted over because 9 of the ten names included were criminals from New York. The governor at that time did not deem it fit to have the mural on the façade of the pavillon building because it was one of the tallest buildings in New York at that time. Additionally, having that kind of publicity would have destroyed the governor’s chances of being re-elected. According to others, a mural of that nature was inappropriate to have at a family-friendly fair.
At the time of his commissioning, Andy Warhol and some of the other artists that had been commissioned including John Chamberlain and James Rosenquist had been leading painters in the Pop Art movement or school; artists of this movement were more formally known as new realists.
The recent exhibition that took place in 2014 sought to concentrate on Warhol’s 13 most wanted men as its main subject addressing how it was created and its destruction. The exhibition also explored the mural’s impact on the art scene through its artistic combination of archival material and documentation.
Andy Warhol’s Thirteen Most Wanted Men installed on the exterior of the New York State Pavilion for the 1964 New York World’s Fair
13 Most Wanted Men: Andy Warhol and the 1964 World’s Fair, Installation view, 2014, Queens Museum, New York
Photo: Peter Dressel