WNYC Studio: Davis Mural – New York NY


New York’s largest public radio station, WNYC, was housed in the Manhattan Municipal Building at 1 Centre St. from 1924 until 2008, when it moved to an improved location. In 1939, the building’s Studio B received four WPA Federal Art Project murals by Stuart Davis, Byron Browne, Louis Schanker and John von Wicht. At the live dedication of the murals, Davis made important and controversial remarks about the state of art, politics and the New Deal. This summary of the broadcast explains that:

“In a ceremony clearly designed to be light and “festive,” according to the announcer, Davis squarely addresses the elephant in the room: the fact that pending legislation to extend and expand federal arts funding is under heated attack at the moment…

Only Davis mentions the embattled legislation, also taking the opportunity to decry the pernicious role of private patronage, and the suppression of abstract art by “certain reactionary museum-critic-dealer combines in the United States,” which he compares to Hitler’s. Considering endangered arts funding, he also finds “grim humor” in Congress’s recent appropriation of $2,500 for a White House portrait of “ex-President Hoover.”

…Such proscriptions reflect the flux and struggle around the issue of abstract art during the previous two decades…

Davis, a painter, printmaker, cartoonist, and graphic designer, was born to artists in Philadelphia in 1892. He was one of the youngest painters to exhibit in New York’s controversial 1913 Armory Show and went on to become a singularly influential American modernist painter, tireless art advocate and popular educator. Exploring urban realism, cubism, collage, and decorative styles, as well as, most notably, abstraction, though he regretted that his work had been “typecast” by the term…His love of jazz also contributed to the rhythms and compositions of his work, including WNYC’s mural…

For the mural, Davis was paid hourly for about two months of work, for a total of $335, materials included…

A year after his death, Davis’s mural, 7-feet-2-inches by 11 feet, now valued at “$60,000 to $100,000,” according to The New York Times, went on three-year loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it remains to this day. The Times’s coverage reports that the removal and maneuvering of the gigantic three-panel work through several inadequate doorways produced “some tense moments.” By then, the work had been out of view for some time, obscured by a curtain in what had become the newly christened television studios of WNYC’s Channel 31. Schanker’s mural is still in the Municipal Building, hanging in a hallway on the 25th floor. Von Wicht’s is displayed on the third floor of the Brooklyn Public Library Grand Army Plaza Branch. Browne’s was damaged and is in pieces in the basement of City Hall under the auspices of the New York City Design Commission.”   (https://www.wnyc.org)

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Location Info

1 Centre St.
New York, NY 10007

Coordinates: 40.7130276, -74.0037529

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