Fifty years ago this month, Andy Warhol installed a grid of controversial screenprints on the side of the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens. The mural portrayed 13 infamous men whose grainy, black-and-white mug shots Warhol had culled from a 1962 “most wanted” booklet issued by the New York Police Department. However, as soon as the Pop artist posted his “13 Most Wanted Men” on the wall, a scandal erupted among the fair’s organizers.
Robert Moses, New York’s “master builder” who had planned and coordinated the fair, considered “13 Most Wanted Men” a direct insult. (Warhol also created several screenprints lampooning Moses, but that series was eventually lost.) New York governor Nelson Rockefeller and the State Pavilion’s architect, Philip Johnson, were similarly outraged. Three days later, before the fair even opened, the mural was destroyed. To unknowing fairgoers, the building had simply received a fresh coat of silver paint.
Later that summer, Warhol printed a new—more portable—set of 20 “Most Wanted Men,” this time on canvas using the screens from the original series. And beginning April 27, nine of those images will return to the borough, when “Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted Men and the 1964 World’s Fair” opens at the Queens Museum.
The mug shots feature the stern and bruised faces of “roughed-up men who do not want to be photographed,” say Larissa Harris, the show’s curator. “These screenprints are pointedly nonglamorous. They’re very different from a Marilyn or a Liz.” Also included in the exhibition are more than 40 early screentests from Warhol’s “13 Most Beautiful Boys” series (1964–66), archival material from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh—where the show will travel in the fall—and photographs of the Factory, the artist’s legendary studio in Manhattan.
Much of the Queens Museum resides in the old New York City Building, designed by Aymar Embury II for the 1939 World’s Fair and reused for the ’64 edition. “Most Wanted Men” will be displayed in the museum’s recent expansion, several yards from the site where Warhol originally placed his mural.
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 28 under the title “Return to the Scene of the Crime.”