6. Andy Warhol’s Lost Portraits
For the Fair, Philip Johnson comissioned popular artists of the time to create works that would adorn the pavilion. Among the artists chosen were Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and others. For his piece, Warhol created a grid of enlarged silk-screened mug shots of the NYPD’s 13 most wanted criminals of 1962. Measuring 20 feet by 20 feet, the massive mural was hung on the exterior wall of the pavilion’s Theaterama building, but it was taken down before opening day.
There is no one definitive reason for why the piece was removed, but there were many contributing factors. Some reports say that then-governor Nelson Rockefeller thought the piece would offend Italian visitors to the fair, as most of the cirminals pictures were of Italian descent. Overall, officials didn’t think the expressed positive qualities of New York. To replace the most wanted men, Warhol created 25 silk-screened images of a grinning Robert Moses. Unspruirngly, this idea was also rejected.
When opening day arrived, visitors saw a large, blank, aluminum painted square that was painted over the original portraits. While Warhol went onto make other itierations of the “Most Wanted” piece, the Moses portraits have been lost. A remnant of this controversy remains however in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Near the Gotham Plaza Entrance to Passarelle Plaza, look down and you’ll see a mosaic of a smilling Moses attributed to Warhol. The mosaic was installed in 1998 along with a series of other round floor pieces that depict features of the fair.