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“Thugs at the fair?”: Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted Men exhibit at Queens Museum

Imagine: you’re a 1960s era artist in New York City. You spend your days and nights in the studio perfecting (and perfecting, and perfecting) your works in hopes they will be seen, by who knows: MAYBE an audience at large. Well, 1964 might have been THE lucky (or not so lucky) year for one of those particular starving artists you know as Mister Andy Warhol.

Nelson Rockefeller, New York’s Governor at the time, asked architect Philip Johnson to design the ’64 Fair’s pavilion by choosing ten up-and-coming artists to display a 20’x20’ work on the venue’s Theaterama. The artists chosen among Warhol (who only had one NYC exhibit under his belt!) were Peter Agostini, John Chamberlain, Robert Indiana, Ellsowrth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Lieberman, Robert Mallary, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Rosenquist.

Warhol, being somewhat of a deviant man himself, chose to paint New York City’s most wanted criminals of 1962 to fill his 40 square foot space. Because why not? I mean seriously, there is no explanation for his decision to create 13 Most Wanted Men. He just did.


Well, it did not go over so well with the public. Outraged at why the city would glorify crime, residents spoke up against Warhol’s work and how it was “out of place”. In response to their “concerns”, Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted was painted over silver a few days later.

“In one way I was glad the mural was gone: now I wouldn’t have to feel responsible if one of the criminals ever got turned into the FBI because someone had recognized them from my pictures” –Andy Warhol on the removal of 13 Most Wanted Men in the autobiography POPism

Unfortunately for Warhol, the silver replacement of his works stayed up throughout the duration of the fair—from April to October of both 1964 and 1965. Later on he decided to restore the work, this time in a set of paintings using 48×40 canvases. The paintings have been collaborated from US and Germany to make up the large display.

Among the 13 Most Wanted Men, more paintings and relics from the era including exclusive newspaper clippings covering the public’s opposition and the gorgeously painted “Flowers” piece dedicated to JFK.

Queens Museum will display Warhol’s once controversial series until September 7th. There will also be a special celebration on May 18th in Flushing Meadows Corona Park from 1-5PM featuring a concert series and fireworks.

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Kaitlin Duffy is a writer from Cleveland. When she's not blogging or pondering the great complexities of the world and outer space, she is finding rare vinyl steals, visiting new places, laughing often, Instagramming everything in sight, watching movies, or working on her first feature Port de Cleve.