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Exhibition Case Study
Raid the Icebox I with Andy Warhol, 1969-70

Nadia Scott


         Raid the Icebox I with Andy Warhol, was an exhibition curated from the permanent collection[+] of the basement storage at the Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).[1] It toured from 1969, being shown at Rice University’s Institute for the Arts in Houston, the Isaac Delgado Museum in New Orleans, and finally, RISD, where the idea was initially conceived. The show, which was originally to be the first in a series, was the brainchild of Houston-based collectors Jean and Dominique de Menil. In 1968 the two collectors visited RISD and toured the museum’s storage areas with the then-director Daniel Robbins. There they suggested that the museum invite an artist, the first being Warhol, to curate a show entirely comprised of permanent collection objects in order to offer a fresh perspective. They felt that because the museum had such limited space, relegating much of its permanent collection to the basement, no one would miss the objects since they were already not on display.[2]










                 American Bandboxes and Hat Boxes in Storage                                                                French Wallpaper in Storage


Over six trips to the museum’s basement, Warhol ended up selecting 404 items from the museum’s basement ranging in age from 1000 BCE to the 19th century.[3] These items were two vases, seven blankets, nine baskets, nine drawings, ten hatboxes, eleven bowls, twelve sculptures, twelve wallpaper samples, seventeen chairs, nineteen jars, forty-five paintings, fifty-seven umbrellas, and one hundred and ninety-four pairs of shoes.[4] Accompanying the show, RISD published an exhibition catalogue featuring essays by Daniel Robbins, Dominique de Menil, David Bourdon, and Stephen E. Ostrow, Warhol’s Polaroid images of the objects and storage areas of the museum, and a complete list of objects.[5]

While ambitious, the desired message—the erasure of distinctions between different types of art and objects—was not received very well by the public. The exhibition came off as tone-deaf. Warhol’s subtle approach to critique paled in comparison to the protests against the Vietnam War and for Black Power, Chicano rights, LGBTQ rights, and women’s liberation.[6]





Mound Builders Pottery in Storage                                                                                                                                                      Paintings and Sculptures in Storage


                                                                                                                  Shoe Cabinet in Storage


Review of Exhibition Writing

Much of the official information regarding Raid the Icebox lives online on the main RISD website, its museum's website, or the school's digital archives. These sources focus on telling the history of the exhibition with a focus on how it logistically came together rather than its negative critical reception at the time. They do, however, spend a significant amount of time building the show's legacy as the first, and in their opinion, the most significant artist-curated show of the modern era.[7] It broke down the barriers between the artist-curator and institutions, exposing what can happen when someone is given full access.

                American Windsor Chairs                                                                                                               Hanging Parasols and Umbrellas with Paintings


One way they build this legacy is by highlighting Warhol's unconventional selection process and installation style, which remains radical and provocative.[8] Warhol went through the collection with the curatorial staff selecting objects almost indiscriminately by proclaiming, "I'll take that!" whenever he saw something he liked, snapping a photo of it with his Polaroid.[9] This process of selection leveled the playing field for all objects and embodied Warhol's leading questions for the exhibition: "how and why cultural institutions establish hierarchies of historical significance, beauty, and meaning."[10] Furthermore, his decision to display entire sections of objects in their storage containers, shelves, and racks reinforced his point. It made viewers feel as if they were actually looking around the museum's storage, an aesthetic heightened by Warhol designing the space so patrons would enter through the basement and then up into the gallery.[11] 


In 2019, as a 50-year celebration of the exhibition, RISD mounted Raid the Icebox Now, which invited multiple contemporary artists, such as Simone Leigh and Sebastian Ruth, to work with the museum's curatorial team in order to continue to push the boundaries of what a museum's permanent collection can be.[12] They were given very few parameters in order to create new works, curatorial projects, new productions and presentation methods, and a chance to use the galleries and digital platforms in new and innovative ways.



                American Indian Blankets                                                                                                               Shoe Cabinets with Bandboxes and Handboxes


Reviews and Research

In her article, "Shopping the Leftovers: Warhol's collecting strategies in Raid the Icebox I," author Deborah Bright attempts to add to the discourse surrounding Raid the Icebox by looking at Warhol's practices as a manifestation of his blue-collar upbringing and love for pop sensibility instead of an expression of his queer camp identity.[13] She argues that, unlike other artists, he did not shy away from his upbringing, instead letting his class sensibilities and the aesthetics associated with it influence his practice as an artist—and now a curator.[14] This aesthetic directed his curatorial selections, which confronted the principles of connoisseurship that are the foundation of the art world and museum collecting practices, leveling it to the practices of shopping.[15] In making this argument, she describes how Warhol demanded that no authentic paintings by prominent artists be included, only selecting fakes and "inferior" works along with crates of shoes, hatboxes, hats, umbrellas, and wallpaper.[16] His respect for these mass-market products was furthered when it came to organizing all the objects for the catalogue; he insisted that every object, regardless of value, be given full descriptive labels.[17] This insistence undermined the typical role that labels serve, to coherently express the process of an artist and distinguish a work as one of a kind. It also confronted the role of professional art historians as it required them to conduct the same level of research for a rubber gym shoe as they would a Rodin.[18] To Bright, Raid the Icebox is one of the best examples of Warhol's iconic tendency to elevate objects of mass consumption to that of fine art.

In "Defrosting the Icebox: A Contextual Analysis of Andy Warhol's Raid the Icebox 1," Natalie Musteata attempts to contextualize the exhibition not through Warhol's biography as was the case with Bright's article but through the relationship between the RISD and the artist-curator.[19] She argues that while RISD was using Warhol to appeal to a younger generation, he was critiquing the institution by subverting pre-established hierarchies of display, value, and authority. She does this by explaining how the choice of Warhol by the RISD was a calculated move that the museum's Director, Daniel Robbins, hoped would solve its financial, public-image, and collection problems.[20] He hoped that Warhol would bring in a younger audience and capitalize on the contemporary art movement in a cost-effective way by utilizing the museum's permanent collection that had grown too large to always be on view. Yet, this move further irritated an already agitated RISD student body who saw the largely anti-political artist's free reign in the primarily old and European collections as further proof of the school's mismanagement.[21]


On the other hand, Warhol, in his eclectic selection of items, including high art, original works, and fine art alongside lowly objects, reproductions, and decorative arts, directly confronted the hierarchy of the art world. While his picking seemed almost arbitrary, looking closely at the over 300 objects selected, one can see a pattern forming of Warhol favoring rejected items, objects cast off as unnecessary, especially rugs and ceramics from indigenous artists.[22] His confrontations were furthered by his unconventional installation that went against just about every rule about exhibition design, doing its best to be as unaesthetic as possible with many objects displayed in their storages cases; and thanks to photo evidence it can be seen how the difference between the storage and final display is almost nonexistent. Because of this, Musteata does see the final exhibition as Warhol "displaying storage," exposing the mechanics of art institutions.[23] This idea counters the view that Raid the Icebox was not a display of various things pulled from the basement of the RISD Museum but as a survey of Warhol himself, it being the best example of his style as an artist without including a singular piece of his own. 


Finally, in the essay “Andy Warhol, Raid the Icebox I, with Andy Warhol, 1969” Anthony Huberman argues that Warhol was not trying to pass a value judgment of the collection, deeming it good, bad, excellent, or problematic.[24] He understood that no collection would ever be complete or perfect. By assigning the same weight to a fine European painting as he did a vase, Warhol showed no regard for the item’s condition, authenticity, or art historical status. Thus, he was demonstrating how there was no qualitative way to make selections,  and any other decision with whatever other metric would be just as arbitrary. This view juxtaposes Warhol’s work with that of Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum (1992), another show that utilized a permanent collection this time of the Maryland Historical Society. Unlike the first two reviews, he does not see Warhol’s work as a critique of the institution but as a celebration of it as a “great place with great stuff.”[25] Huberman does concede that how Warhol created the show with no rhyme, reason, or care for actual value does render the role of a modern curator unnecessary.




                Paintings and Sculptures  


                                                                                                                                                                                          Paintings Hung on Chain Link Fence  



With a significant amount of the existing scholarship on Raid the Icebox I that focuses on Warhol’s selection practices, this section will examine the critical and public failures of the exhibition. The initial failure of it, I believe, speaks to the larger issue of institutions wanting to put on groundbreaking, provocative shows that push the boundaries of the art world without having the foresight of what the criticisms could possibly be and how to weather those criticisms. In the era of the Vietnam war and social movement aimed at improving the lives of Black people, Latinos, women, and LGBTQ people, Raid the Icebox I, curated by Andy, could not have been a worse choice. The director knew that they were facing mass student protests from an incredibly liberal population who felt like the school was not paying enough attention or money to its minority students. Yet he did not seem to think enough about how the very anti-political, and very white, Andy Warhol curating a show would be perceived, especially when these students were the people he wanted to engage. So, when the exhibition opened at RISD, the visitors were greeted by students chanting “People over porcelain!” and “Sell the Exhibition,” with no response from the institution.[26] It was this lack of foresight that hung a black cloud over the planned series and made other institutions not want to host their own version. Warhol’s career obviously was not damaged in any way, and he is still remembered as one of the best contemporary artists, however it speaks volumes that RISD put an extensive amount of effort into burying this show despite the artist’s popularity; it only became a topic of research within the last two decades.[27] From Raid the Icebox current curators can learn that the success of their genre-defining shows may rest on their ability to foresee and plan around public outrage.



 + The complete checklist of the over 300 items in exhibition seems to live exclusively in the exhibition’s catalogue, which has been out of print since the 1970s. However, the RISD website does provide a list of select objects from the show. The descriptions provided for these objects are incredibly basic and lack the detail typically expected out of wall labels. This lack of detail is disappointing when considering how insistent Warhol was about every object being extensively catalogued with as much information about it being included as possible. On another note, due to Warhol’s desire to display the entire collection of shoes held by the museum, there are multiple entries featuring what appears to be the same shoe but is a duplicate pair. This list reflects the information as provided by RISD.

1. RISD Museum, “Raid the Icebox 1 with Andy Warhol,” Raid the Icebox 1 with Andy Warhol, accessed December 5, 2022,

2. RISD Museum, “Raid the Icebox 1 with Andy Warhol.”

3. Natalie Musteata, “Defrosting the Icebox: A Contextual Analysis of Andy Warhol’s Raid the Icebox 1,” Journal of Curatorial Studies 5, no. 2 (January 2016): pp. 214-237,, 220.

4. Musteata, “Defrosting the Icebox: A Contextual Analysis,” 215.

5. Anthony Huberman, “Andy Warhol, ‘Raid the Icebox I, with Andy Warhol," 1969 – the Artist as Curator #7,” Mousse Magazine and Publishing, August 25, 2015,

6. Deborah Bright, “Shopping the Leftovers: Warhol's Collecting Strategies in Raid the Icebox I,” Art History 24, no. 2 (2001): pp. 278-291,, 284.

7. RISD Museum, “Raid the Icebox 1 with Andy Warhol.”

8. Andrew Martinez, “Raid the Icebox,” Raid the Icebox | RISD Museum, October 1, 2014,

9. Martinez, “Raid the Icebox.”

10. RISD Museum, “Raid the Icebox 1 with Andy Warhol.”

11. Martinez, “Raid the Icebox”

12. RISD Museum, “Raid the Icebox Now,” Raid the Icebox Now | RISD Museum, 2019,

13. Bright, “Shopping the Leftovers,” 280.

14. Bright, “Shopping the Leftovers,” 282.

15. Bright, “Shopping the Leftovers,” 282.

16. Bright, “Shopping the Leftovers,” 286..

17. Bright, “Shopping the Leftovers,” 286.

18. Bright, “Shopping the Leftovers,” 288.

19. Musteata, “Defrosting the Icebox,” 215.

20. Musteata, “Defrosting the Icebox,” 220.

21. Musteata, “Defrosting the Icebox,” 222.

22. Musteata, “Defrosting the Icebox,” 224.

23. Musteata, “Defrosting the Icebox,” 228.

24. Anthony Huberman, “Andy Warhol, ‘Raid the Icebox I, with Andy Warhol," 1969 – the Artist as Curator #7,” Mousse Magazine and Publishing, August 25, 2015,

25. Huberman, “Andy Warhol, ‘Raid the Icebox I.”

26. Musteata, “Defrosting the Icebox” 231.

27. Bright, “Shopping the Leftovers,” 288.


Nadia Scott is a third-year History major, Curatorial Studies minor at Spelman College, with keen interests in public history, education, and cultural heritage management. As an emerging historian and future museum educator she aims to make history more inclusive and approachable.

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