“Between 1935 and 1937, [Arshile] Gorky painted ten large-scale murals on the theme of aviation for the Newark Airport Administration Building. This mural cycle, known as Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations, was among the first modernist murals created and installed under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Art Project. Although still engaged with the Cubist vocabulary of Picasso and Braque, the mechanized forms of these murals also reveal a debt to the work of Fernand Léger, especially his monumental 1919 painting The City, now in the Museum’s collection. Léger’s urban, machine-inspired imagery and vivid colors were particularly suited to express the spirit of aviation, and Gorky clearly studied The City intensely since his color reproduction of the painting is covered with his paint-smeared fingerprints.
Like most WPA murals, the panels were not made in situ, but rather painted in the studio on monumental canvases that were later installed on the walls at Newark Airport–a practice that was in keeping with Gorky’s belief that ‘mural painting should not become part of the wall, as the moment this occurs the wall is lost and the painting loses its identity.’ Although the modern style of these brightly colored murals made them highly controversial at the time, these large-scale compositions signaled Gorky’s emergence as an abstract painter of great promise. Sadly, eight of the Newark Airport murals were later lost or destroyed, while the two remaining works, Aerial Map and Mechanics of Flying, were not rediscovered until 1973, when they were found beneath fourteen layers of wall paint at the Newark Airport Administration Building.” (www.philamuseum.org)
The originals of the two surviving murals are no longer at the airport, but instead are housed at the Newark Museum. The lost murals are discussed on another project page here.
Originally posted in the New Deal Art Registry: http://www.newdealartregistry.org/
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