Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Half a century after Nelson Rockefeller ordered that it be painted over at the World's Fair, "13 Most Wanted Men" reappears in Pittsburgh.
If you want to make something interesting forever, ban it once.
Fifty years after New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered Andy Warhol's "13 Most Wanted Men" painted over at the 1964 World's Fair, the piece is getting new exposure in Warhol's hometown.
Just across the Allegheny river from downtown Pittsburgh, the Andy Warhol Museum now has a digitally printed version of the infamous mural. Hanging above the front entrance, it's part of the museum's latest exhibit, 13 Most Wanted Men: Andy Warhol and the 1964 World’s Fair.
Warhol was just one of the 10 artists commissioned by Philip Johnson to create pieces for the '64-'65 World's Fair in Queens. The young pop artist's contribution was a series of mugshots taken from a 1962 NYPD booklet, silkscreened onto a 20-by-20 foot mural.
Installed on the facade of the the Johnson-designed New York State Pavilion two weeks before the fair opened to the public, Rockefeller had the mug shots painted over 48 hours later. It was Warhol's only public art piece.
As Jessica Dawson of the Daily Beast explained earlier this year, a front page story in the New York Journal American right after Warhol's mural went up quoted fair employees and locals who found it offensive. Governor Rockefeller, a White House hopeful at the time, nipped the controversy in the bud; two days later, Warhol had officially authorized the paint-over.
Warhol also screenprinted the same mug shots onto separate canvases, selling them to private collectors. Some of those are on display at the exhibit, as are assorted documents and ephemera related to the fair and the controversy around the mural.
What visitors will see in Pittsburgh through next January first showed at the Queens Museum (steps from the NYS Pavilion) earlier this summer. Hardly as popular as his soup cans or Maos, "13 Most Wanted Men" has been receiving a lot more attention this year thanks to the fair's 50th anniversary.
Warhol's role in the fair was just one of many unwanted issues for officials. The two-year event flirted with bankruptcy and never received an official sanction by the Bureau of International Expositions. Countries were asked by the BIE not to participate, and the fair became mostly a showcase for American corporations.
But an as-planned event would have made for dull history. Half a century later, "13 Most Wanted Men" matters because it's a Warhol—but also because it's just one of the many strange stories behind an endlessly fascinating World's Fair.
"13 Most Wanted Men: Andy Warhol and the 1964 World’s Fair" is on exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum through January 4, 2015.