Why did Warhol paint New York’s most wanted criminals?
SFX: A noisy New York police station, circa 1964– phones ringing in background, a Desk Sergeant answers, “Seventh Precinct.”
Next! Frank B., step forward! Face the camera.
SFX: A harsh flash pops and whines.
Turn to the side. Next!
SFX: More of a pop into a vibrant New York nightclub, like it’s just taken over the Police Dept.
When the organizers of the 1964 World’s Fair handed Warhol a commission, this isn’t one of the faces they had in mind. Andy Warhol could have had his pick of glamorous subjects for this project. But instead he chose to enlarge mug shots from a 1962 pamphlet of the NYPD’s thirteen most wanted men. Criminals? On the side of the New York State Pavilion? No way. Within days of the opening, the canvas, which had already been installed, was painted over with silver paint.
SFX: A glop of paint, applied thickly, muffles the throbbing dance music.
Fortunately, Warhol worked with silkscreens, so he could reproduce the work. Today, it’s not unusual for us to see criminals behaving like celebrities — and vice versa — but to give center stage to a bunch of criminal outcasts, however photogenic … well, in 1964, it simply wasn’t done.
Yes, Frankie! Work it for me! Yes! Right to the camera, baby! Love it! Now turn left! Who’s the Most Wanted Man? Oh, you’re fabulous … I love it.
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