There's A Tiny Art Museum On the Moon!
Before the Blood Moon hits, read up on Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and other artists' contributions to the world’s smallest—and only—lunar museum.
Various Artists, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, David Novros, Forrest Myers, Robert Rauschenberg, John Chamberlain. The Moon Museum. 1969. Photo via MoMA.
In anticipation of Sunday's 'Super Blood Wolf Moon, GARAGE is celebrating all things lunar.
The only known “museum” on the moon is in fact an iridium-plated ceramic wafer, measuring three quarters of an inch by half an inch.
In addition to a Minimalist line by Robert Rauschenberg, circuitry-inspired drawing by David Novros and John Chamberlain, and a demented Mickey Mouse sketch by Claes Oldenburg, the wafer contains an Andy Warhol penis doodle which can also be read as his initials; it’s as if the clanging machismo of mid-twentieth century contemporary art had been Shrinky-dinked into a communion wafer of Space Race propaganda.
The Moon Museum, as it’s now called, was imagineered by an American sculptor named Forrest “Frosty” Myers, who perhaps best known for a piece of minimalist public artwork affixed to the side of a SoHo building and titled The Wall in 1973. “The Gateway to SoHo,” as it is also, unfortunately, called, consists of forty-two evenly spaced aluminum bars bolted to forty-two steel braces, painted bluish green against a green background.
When, in an interview with Gwen Wright of PBS’s History Detectives, Myers was asked about the impetus behind the Moon Museum, he said, “Well, going to the moon was the biggest thing in our generation. It’s hard to explain that to the kids today. I mean, we were stepping off the planet.”
The Moon Museum was produced in conjunction with Bell Laboratories. A former beacon of American R&D, Bell, flush with military-industrial complex money, delivered some of the twentieth century’s choicest trinkets: lasers, the radio transistor, the programming languages C and C++, satellites. Myers initially tried to get his Moon Museum project sanctioned by NASA, but the space program refused to give him an answer. As he told Wright, “They never said no, I could just not get them to say anything.”
Exasperated, Myers decided to smuggle the Moon Museum aboard the rocket on instead. He was put in touch with Fred Waldhauer, co-founder of arts non-profit Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) and electrical engineer at Bell Labs. Using techniques originally designed to produce telephone circuits, Bell Labs engineers etched the six drawings that Myers had collected––contributed by the frothing creme de la creme of New York’s downtown art scene––onto the wafer. Between sixteen and twenty of these wafers were produced in total. Myers still has one; another, as of 2010, had been bought and sold via online auction.
Waldhauer got in touch with an aircraft engineer working on the Apollo 12 lander module (Apollo 11, the very first space mission, had landed on the moon a few months earlier, on July 16, 1969), who agreed to place the wafer somewhere inside the lander. Myers didn’t know the engineer’s name, only that the engineer had agreed to send him a telegram confirming that the wafer had made it on. Two days before Apollo 12 took off, he got it: “YOUR ON' A.O.K. ALL SYSTEMS GO." The telegram was signed "JOHN F.”
While the pseudonym might correspond with an actual John F., launchpad foreman Richard Kupczyk admits in an interview with Wright, “The first thing that jumped into my mind was the fellow who started it all, JFK. So, John F. Kennedy jumped into my mind as a pseudonym.” He also tells Wright––who, with her red spectacle and short, thorny, rust-red hair, is the cartoon of an adult education ceramics teacher in Santa Fe––that “there are small personal items that the fellas put in between the blankets of the spacecraft.”
Nestled in between the gold thermal insulation pads, used to protect the rocket from extreme heat, cold, and micro-meteorid impact, were photos of the engineers’ children, wives, and lovers. “On Apollo 12 there are some things that are on that spacecraft that are laying on the lunar surface right now.” Then he asks, in a statement that seems to mad-lib America’s twentieth-century impetuous imperial ardor, “Was it wrong? Yes. But we were caught up into this thing and we were good and we knew it.”