Food & Culture

The Most Exclusive Museum in the Galaxy May Be on the Moon

On November 14, 1969, the Apollo 12 mission launched and three astronauts began humanity's second trip to the lunar surface. While this fateful mission marked yet another historic launch in NASA's Apollo program, it also successively established one of the most exclusive art museums in the world.

Sitting on the leg of the Intrepid lander module left on the moon by the Apollo 12 astronauts is a small ceramic wafer. On it, there are six works of art from famous artists in the 1960s, notably Andy Warhol and John Chamberlain. This wafer is now known as the Moon Museum, and you'll likely never get to visit it.

A Teeny Tiny, Great Big Project

The moon museum was a concept thought up by an American sculptor named Forrest "Frosty" Myers. He originally pitched the idea to NASA but failed to get a response from official channels. In fact, Myers said, "They never said no; I just couldn't get them to say anything."

Determined to bring the project into reality, he decided to take the project covert and pursue some "unofficial" channels that could get the museum onboard.

For the museum's construction, Myers needed technology that wasn't commercially available at the time. He contacted a non-profit named Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) who linked him with scientists from Bell Laboratories to construct 18 wafers. After commissioning small sketches from six artists for the wafers, including himself, and creating them with techniques used in circuitry production, Myers then undertook the covert process of getting one of the wafers attached to the lander.

Through some contacts he had made at the Grumman Aircraft Corporation, Myers handed off the wafer to engineers working closely on the Intrepid lander project and trusted they would accomplish the task.

Eventually, on November 12, he got a telegraph at his house saying "YOUR ON' A.O.K. ALL SYSTEMS GO," signed "JOHN F." Nevermind the improper use of "your" — the chip had purportedly made it onto the lander.

The Lunar Collection

At three-quarters of an inch (19 millimeters) by half an inch (13 millimeters) and roughly the thickness of mechanical pencil lead, the "Moon Museum" wafer is quite small. After all, it had to be to be able to be covertly placed on the leg of the landing module.

In the image above you can see the "works of art" contained on the face of the wafer, which Myers commissioned specifically for the project. Myers created the geometric piece in the lower left corner; to the right of that is Claes Oldenburg's Mickey Mouse: a version of a sculpture he was showing at MoMA at the time. The black box in the upper right created by David Novros and the diagram beneath that made by John Chamberlain are both inspired by circuitry. Robert Rauschenberg produced the single line in the upper center. To the left of that, Andy Warhol drew what he claimed was a stylized version of his initials. If you think it looks like something else, you're right: It also looks like a rocket ship.

So did the Moon Museum make it to the moon? "I don't know about it," Julian Scheer, NASA assistant administrator for public affairs told the New York Times in 1969. "If it is true that they've succeeded in doing it by some clandestine means, I hope that the work represents the best in contemporary American art." The only way anyone could really know is by going to the moon itself, which may happen sooner than you think.

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For more family-friendly Warhol art, check out "Andy Warhol 365 Takes: The Andy Warhol Museum Collection." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Trevor English August 17, 2018

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