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When Warhol Went to the Moon

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“Free Enterprise: The Art of Citizen Space Exploration,” a multi-venue exhibition at UC Riverside, is featuring The Moon Museum (1969), a tiny iridium-plated ceramic chip inscribed with drawings by six artists including Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Oldenburg. One such chip was smuggled onto Apollo 12 and resides on the lunar surface.

The Moon Museum was conceived by Long Beach-born sculptor Forrest Myers, best known for The Wall in Soho. Myers couldn’t get NASA to commit to transporting the Moon Museum, so he took matters into his own hands. He got Bell Labs scientists to fabricate the 3/4 by 1/2 inch chip and assist in smuggling it aboard the Apollo 12 landing module.

At least 16 Moon Museums were created, making it one of rarest of 1960s multiples. The one being shown in Riverside, at  the California Museum of Photography, is lent by the wife of Bell Labs’ Fred Waldhauer. Waldhauer cajoled a Grumman engineer to place the chip on a leg of the Intrepid lunar lander. Two days before the launch, the Grumman engineer sent Myers a telegram saying “‘YOUR ON’ A.O.K. ALL SYSTEMS GO.”

From top to bottom, left to right, the six drawings are—

Andy Warhol, the artist’s initials (ostensibly), but it’s usually understood to be a penis. It can also be read as a rocket.

Robert Rauschenberg, a line. Conceivably there’s some relation to his 1953 Automobile Tire Print, created with John Cage and tweaking the Barnett Newman “Zip.”

David Novros, a black square with incised white lines.

Forrest Myers, Interconnection, a pretzel-like linear abstraction described as computer-generated.

Claes Oldenburg, a drawing of his abstracted Mickey Mouse.

John Chamberlain, a drawing suggesting circuitry.

After Apollo 12 landed in Oceanus Procellarum, Myers informed the New York Times of the lunar artwork. The Times ran a photo in which a thumb covered Warhol’s contribution.

Myers’ moon art may have been a reaction to the nascent earthworks movement. Virginia Dwan’s “Earth Works” show, in October 1968, was 13 months before Apollo 12.

Myers wasn’t the first artist to stake out the moon as a canvas, though. In 1948-9 sculptor Ibram Lassaw produced a series of tiny, translucent paintings on 1.5-inch square glass slides intended to be projected at large and potentially infinite scale—even on the moon, he proposed.

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Comments

  1. If only it could have been in the wilted flesh, though Rauschenberg might get a bye for his early work. sigh.
    Though my son and many other kids got their autographs IN INK on Mars, I guess NASA and JPL have their priorities straight.

  2. by denise lassaw

    The Projection Paintings which were created in the mid 1940s were glass slides painted with special dyes and chemicals. The colors were brilliant and some had scratched designs on them. We used to project them on the high studio walls and allow the image to cover the floor, and then dance in the light. Art historian, Arthur Jones has called them the largest and the smallest abstract paintings. they were also multi-positional as they could be seen from 8 different positions. Artist friends who often came to see them include Paul Jenkins, Bill de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Philip Pavia, John Cage, Robert Frank, Al Leslie, Alice Baber, A.L. Copley and many others. In 2002 I scanned the Projection Paintings and Ibram chose 10 of them to create a special edition of 10 archival prints. Although a print is not as wonderful as the living light images it is a way to preserve the Projections .

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