There’s a Tiny Art Museum on the Moon That Features the Art of Andy Warhol & Robert Rauschenberg

This week is the 50th anniver­sary of the moon land­ing, and though we have yet to send an artist into space (pho­tog­ra­ph­er Michael Naj­jar is appar­ent­ly still train­ing to become the first), there is a tiny art muse­um on the moon, and it’s been there since Novem­ber 1969, four months after man set foot on the lunar ser­vice, and in the after­glow of that amaz­ing sum­mer.

Don’t expect a walk­a­ble gallery, how­ev­er. The muse­um is actu­al­ly a ceram­ic wafer the size of a postage stamp, but what an impres­sive list: John Cham­ber­lain, For­rest Myers, David Novros, Claes Old­en­burg, Robert Rauschen­berg and Andy Warhol.

As you can see, the six kept it min­i­mal. Rauschen­berg drew a sin­gle line. Abstract artist Novros cre­at­ed a black square with inter­sect­ing white lines that look like a cir­cuit board. Sculp­tor Cham­ber­lain also cre­at­ed a geo­met­ric shape like cir­cuit­ry. Old­en­burg left his sig­na­ture, which at the time resem­bled an old Mick­ey Mouse. Myers, who ini­ti­at­ed the project, drew a “linked sym­bol.” And Andy Warhol drew a “styl­ized sig­na­ture” but let’s be hon­est, it’s a penis. Yes, Warhol put a dick pic on the moon.

The muse­um was not an offi­cial­ly sanc­tioned project. It had to be smug­gled onto the Apol­lo 12 lunar lan­der. This took some doing and it start­ed with Myers.

He might not be as well known as his fel­lows, but Myers was one of the forces behind the Soho art scene in the ‘60s, who saw the indus­tri­al area blos­som with artists look­ing for cheap rents and large spaces.

Myers had been think­ing about putting art on the moon, but all his entreaties to NASA were met with silence–neither a no nor a yes. It would have to be smug­gled on board, he decid­ed, but for such an oper­a­tion, he’d need some­one on the inside.

For­tu­nate­ly, there was a non-prof­it that was help­ing con­nect artists with engi­neers, called Exper­i­ments in Art and Tech­nol­o­gy (E.A.T.) and Rauschen­berg was one of its founders. Through E.A.T., Myers met Bell Labs’ Fred Wald­hauer who loved the moon muse­um project, and came up with the idea of the small wafers. Six­teen wafers were pro­duced (oth­er accounts say 20), one to go on Apol­lo 12, the oth­ers to go back to the artists (one now resides in MOMA’s col­lec­tion). Wald­hauer knew an engi­neer with Grum­man who was work­ing on the Apol­lo 12, and he agreed to sneak the ceram­ic wafer on board. But how would they know this ultra secret mis­sion was accom­plished?

Two days before the Apol­lo launch, Myers received a telegram from Cape Canaver­al:

The art­work was not the only object sent to the moon on that mis­sion. Engi­neers placed per­son­al pho­tos in the same place: in between the gold ther­mal insu­la­tion pads that would be shed when the lan­der left the moon’s sur­face.

Only when Apol­lo 12’s re-entry cap­sule was on its way back to earth did Myers reveal to the press his suc­cess­ful stunt. How­ev­er, unless we sent astro­nauts back to the exact same spot we don’t real­ly know if the muse­um ever made its way there. Maybe it land­ed the wrong way up? Maybe oth­er wafers moved in through gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, raised rents, and the moon muse­um had to move to Mars. We’ll nev­er find out.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Apol­lo 11 in Real Time: A New Web Site Lets You Take a Real-Time Jour­ney Through First Land­ing on the Moon

David Bowie’s “Space Odd­i­ty” and the Apol­lo 11 Moon Land­ing Turn 50 This Month: Cel­e­brate Two Giant Leaps That Took Place 9 Days Apart

NASA Dig­i­tizes 20,000 Hours of Audio from the His­toric Apol­lo 11 Mis­sion: Stream Them Free Online

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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