Set in the grounds of a forgotten world, where wondrous magnificent structures promised the tomorrow that we now have and told of futures that have now become a blurry past, The Queens Museum laid host to a controversial work from its equally controversial and elusive artist. The museum displayed some of the faces of the 13 most wanted men by Andy Warhol and finally was shown to the public for the first time in the very same ground that denied its public release back in 1964 in The New York World’s fair.
Surrounded by dilapidated ghostly structures of a promising past, the newly renovated museum displayed some of the most haunting faces that were once plastered on the New York State Pavilion but were painted over before it even reached its official public viewing. These faces stared at me, followed me and it filled the room the moment I entered the gallery as if it was coming back to haunt the very place where it once stood. Maybe it was partly due to its size but despite being black and white while other works on the walls were composed of possibly 10 different types of bright colors, it was seemingly always in my peripheral. Surrounding it are pieces of the story covering how these images were brought to life though items like receipt orders for the silk screens and the actual FBI wanted list booklet from the FBI, and how it ended because of the controversy it provoked.
The gallery also brought Andy Warhol’s endearing past with pictures of his life back in the Silver Factory, friends who constantly frequented meetings and parties with him, and the beautiful and damaged people he once surrounded himself with and whom, more often than not, became his muses. There were personal handwritten letters and some were even for official business as for the case of Andy Warhol transferring to another museum without meeting personally to discuss such matters. While this can be easily viewed as lack of social and business etiquette, I could not help but be charmed by how lovingly he wrote the letter. Warhol always had been charming and endearing despite being eccentric and hard to pin down.
The exhibit felt like a ghost confronting its past. While it was banned because of the controversy back in 1964 it also brought to light the question, “Where is the freedom to express art?” It showed faces, stories, and documents that enriched the history of the work and its maker and even fed the powerful and haunting photographs. I stood at the center of the gallery with the wall facing it behind me and stared at these faces, then as an experiment to see if these faces do make me feel haunted, I closed them. Even in the darkness, I saw these ghostly faces of these men that were being haunted back then staring back.