In 1969, artist Andy Warhol was invited to organize an exhibition of objects from the RISD Museum’s permanent collection. The resulting project, Raid the Icebox I with Andy Warhol, is now widely recognized as the first and possibly most significant artist-curated show of the modern era. Since then, the exhibition has inspired similar presentations and the efforts of numerous artists working in a distinctly curatorial vein.
Raid the Icebox developed as a result of a visit to the RISD Museum by Houston-based collectors Jean and Dominique de Menil in 1968. During a tour of the Museum’s storage areas with the then director Daniel Robbins, it was suggested that an artist be invited to provide a fresh perspective on the permanent collection. After Warhol agreed to participate, he made visits to Providence to view the collection and develop the exhibition. His approach to both selection and presentation was and remains radical and provocative, with whole sections of objects transferred from the storage areas into the gallery spaces to subvert traditional notions of connoisseurship and aesthetic display. The exhibition included a broad range of objects, from paintings and sculptures to hatboxes and umbrellas. Warhol’s exhibition asked complicated and incisive questions about how and why cultural institutions establish hierarchies of historical significance, beauty, and meaning.
Though the exhibition was conceived by the RISD Museum with works drawn from its collection, it opened at Rice University’s Institute for the Arts in Houston in 1969, then traveled to the Isaac Delgado Museum in New Orleans before it opened in Providence in the spring of 1970. It was complemented by a distinctive publication featuring texts by Robbins, Dominique de Menil, David Bourdon, and Stephen E. Ostrow, with Warhol’s striking Polaroid images of RISD Museum works and storage areas.