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…

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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.

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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?

Footnote:

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.

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Comments

  1. #1 Rick
    April 13, 2011

    Shouldn’t be to crowded, this museum on the moon…

  2. #2 yogi-one
    April 16, 2011

    Don’t see your logic in claiming that no one will own space. The moon is going to get carved up into regions controlled by the colonizing nations just like the New World did before it. There will be competition for its mineral resources as well as its tourism potential.

    The Military will get in on it too. How we can use the Moon to kill our own people back on Earth is most likely one of the first things we’ll spend outrageous amounts of taxpayer dollars on, in my view.

    I would be very cautious about projecting a well-planned lunar management by an enlightened humanity.

    We don’t have the enlightened humanity part yet.

  3. #3 Megan S
    April 27, 2011

    Yogi-one had some good points, but why would we try to kill our own people on earth. There is no point in that because there would be no one to continue to make the earth better (if there is a way to reverse what we have already done to it).

  4. #4 Tele Gram
    May 3, 2011

    Regarding the previous comments and your post above Claire, I am reminded of a lyric from Leonard Cohen’s “Sing Another Song Boys” off his ’71 album Songs of Love and Hate – “Ah, they’ll never, they’ll never ever reach the moon/At least not the one that we’re after” – This sense of the moon which the poets, artists and astrologers alike attempt to convey is lost on the “beautiful desolation” which Buzz Aldrin described the lunar surface to be. The moon was arrived at by man at a superficial level, albeit through the work of countless minds pushing the boundaries of their rational knowledge. Yet, the moon and the Earth are inseparable from each other, and just as the artistic vision and the scientific vision must be reconciled within our Selves, each material body is not to be separated from its ontological symbology (defined by the other’s existence) without the severest of consequences. I understand arguments against the actual lunar landings to be an unconscious recognition of the failure to truly arrive at the Moon, capital-M also emphasized. This is also, in my reading of the lyric, Cohen’s lament.

  5. #5 Claire Evans
    May 4, 2011

    Tele Gram, what a beautiful sentiment. It’s true. Apollo astronauts didn’t land on the moon, they landed on a rock.

    The wan moon is setting behind the white wave
    And time is setting with me, Oh

    – Robert Burns

  6. #6 herky stubby
    May 11, 2011

    I somehow agree to Yogi-one. There are just human beings who like to be over his own kind. Spending tooo much on projects that will ensure him wealth!