This is the first in a series of posts about art, the moon, and art on the moon. You would think this would be a fairly limited subject, but…
Art on the moon has been happening for a long time.
In 1969, a coterie of American contemporary artists devised a plan to put an art museum on the Moon. When NASA’s official channels proved too dauntingly bureaucratic, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, David Novros, Forrest “Frosty” Myers, Claes Oldenburg, and John Chamberlain weren’t deterred. Instead, they managed to sneak their “museum” — in reality a minuscule enamel wafer inscribed with six tiny drawings — onto the leg of the Apollo 12 mission’s landing module, Intrepid. Of course, NASA has no official record of this intervention, but the New York Times ran the story several days after Apollo 12 took off.
The museum, which looks like a paleo-modern computer chip, includes a drawing of a wavy line, courtesy of Rauschenberg, a doodle of a mouse by Oldenburg, John Chamberlain’s template pattern, and a piece by Warhol that the Times in ’69 called a “a calligraphic squiggle made up of the initials of his signature,” but is obviously a penis.
It seems to me that the artistry of this “museum” is as much about the gesture of sneaking it, illicitly, onto the leg of the lunar lander, as it is about the drawings themselves. The Moon Museum is a cosmic happening, an outer-space intervention, a performance piece with no human (or Selenite) witnesses. Whether or not it even exists is a point of contention; it bears a mystique that an official NASA presence would have irrevocably squelched. Which is perhaps what separates artists from those who seek the cosmos for scientific or technological reasons. To them, the objective may not necessarily be about the quest for knowledge, but rather the desire to play with and articulate Mystery, capital-M. Space inspires awe, feeling, and perspective — the currency of the arts.
As much as the fierce nationalism of space history would suggest otherwise, space also belongs to no one. No nation, no species, and no ideological subcategory of humanity. Obviously astronomers, scientists and engineers have had the most serious crack at the interpretation of the vast impersonal Universe beyond our atmosphere — but mystics, myth-makers, and shamans were at it for centuries beforehand. Of course the prevailing rhetoric since the Enlightenment has been to distance the rational sanctity of science from the taxonomy-barren mish-mash that came before it, but our interdisciplinary age, it seems, should allow us to appreciate the importance of one without devaluing the other. This isn’t a new idea: even NASA gave Laurie Anderson an artists’ residency.
As we expand our boundaries beyond the limits of our planet, the idea of “Moon Arts” or “Space Arts” won’t seem any more sci-fi than regular old Terrestrial Art. Reality is fodder for exploration and creativity, so who’s to say that artists, once they secure passage to orbit, the moon, Mars, and beyond, shouldn’t have as much of a say in our understanding of space as the people who sent them there?
Incidentally, the Moon Museum wasn’t the only rogue intervention on the Apollo 12 Mission. Pranksters back at Cape Canaveral snuck laminated, fire-proof Playboy Centerfolds into astronauts’ Al Bean and Pete Conrad’s checklist booklets. The bunnies, which had captions like “Seen any interesting hills and valleys?” and “Survey — her activity,” were the first American women in space.