Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Catalogue Entry

Mechanics of Flying
Oil on canvas
77 x 121 in. (195.6 x 307.3 cm)
Front not inscribed
Reverse not seen
Newark Museum, New Jersey, Murals without Walls: Arshile Gorky's Aviation Murals Rediscovered, November 15, 1978–March 11, 1979. (Exhibition catalogue: O'Connor 1978b), no. 4, ill. in color, p. 68, as "Aerial Map". Traveled to: Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, New York, July 1–August 26, 1979; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., October 4–November 25, 1979; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, December 23, 1979–February 3, 1980; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, February 28–April 20, 1980; Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, California, May 10–June 22, 1980; Queens Museum, New York, September 6–November 2, 1980.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective, April 24–July 19, 1981, no. 87, ill. in b/w, p. 132, as "Aerial Map". Traveled to: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, September 12–November 6, 1981; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 3, 1981–February 28, 1982.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010. (Exhibition catalogue: Taylor 2009a), pl. 85, ill. in color, pp. 242–43; p. 388, as "Aerial Map, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (Newark Airport Mural)," [exhibited in Philadelphia only]. Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010 (Gale 2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 2010 (Gale 2010).
Newark Museum, New Jersey, Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s–50s, February 17–May 23, 2010, ill. in color, pl. 7, p. 25, as "Aerial Map". Traveled to: Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, June 26–September 5, 2010.
Hess, Thomas B. "Arshile Gorky Flies Again." New York 10 (September 12, 1977), ill. in color, p. 85, as "the wonders of the sky".
"First Photos Of The Restored Newark Murals.", ill., p. 7.
"Gallery Talk on Lost Mural." Observer (Kearny, NJ), November 9, 1978, discussed, as "Aerial Map of the United States".
Maske, Monica. "Long-Lost Murals Fit Right into the Jet Age . . ." The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), November 17, 1978, ill. in b/w, p. 31, as "Aerial Map".
"Murals Without Walls." News Notes (The Newark Museum) (NJ) 35 (November 1978), ill. in b/w, p. 2, as "Aerial Map".
Russell, John. "Art: Lost Murals of Arshile Gorky." New York Times, November 24, 1978, ill. in b/w, p. C17, as "Aerial Map".
Bowman, Ruth. "Arshile Gorky Murals Recovered: The Airport's 'Buried' Treasures." Metro-Newark (NJ) 23, no. 2 (April 1978), ill. in b/w, p. 23, as "Airline Map of the United States".
Ashbery, John. "Sweet Arshile, Bless Your Dear Heart." New York 12 (February 5, 1979), discussed pp. 52–53, as one of "two recently rediscovered murals".
Bourdon, David. "Art: Murals without Walls, Arshile Gorky's Aviation Murals Rediscovered." Vogue (New York) 169, no. 7 (July 1, 1979), discussed p. 25.
Howard, Hugh. "The Case Of the Vanishing Murals." American Way (Miami) (November 1979), ill. in color, p. 116, as "Aerial Map".
"Gorky's 'Mural Without Walls' Newark Museum, Newark, NJ through March 11, 1979." Progressive Architecture (New York) 60 (January 1979), ill. in color, p. 23, as "Aerial Map".
Shirey, David L. "Discovery in Newark: Works of Gorky." New York Times, February 4, 1979, ill. in b/w, section 11, p. 22, as "Aerial Map".
Waldman, Diane. "Arshile Gorky: Poet in Paint." In Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in collaboration with The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1981. Exhibition catalogue, discussed p. 37, as "Aviation: Evolution of Forms Under Aerodynamic Limitations".
Shirey, David L. "Gorky's Airport Murals at the Newark Museum." New York Times, June 13, 1982, ill. in b/w, p. 26, as "Aerial Map".
Jordan, Jim M. "The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: New Discoveries, New Sources, and Chronology." In The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue, by Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater. New York and London: New York University Press, 1982, discussed pp. 57–59, as Mechanics of Flying.
Jordan, Jim M. "Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings." In The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue, by Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater. New York and London: New York University Press, 1982, no. 141v, ill. in b/w, p. 278, as Mechanics of Flying, right panel.
Lader, Melvin P. Arshile Gorky. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. Monograph, fig. 50, ill. in color, p. 55, as "Aerial Map, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitiations".
Wallis, Stephen. "The Federal Art Project: A New Deal for Artists." Art & Antiques (New York) 19 (June 1996), discussed p. 61, as "Aerial Map".
Spender, Matthew. From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1999, ill. in b/w, p. 152, as "Aerial Map".
Kolbe, Regina. "Dreams Form The Bristles Of The Artist's Brush: Arshile Gorky, The Last Great Surrealist." Antiques and The Arts Weekly (Newton, CT) (October 23, 2009), ill. in color, p. 68, as "Aerial Map".
Matttison, Robert S. Arshile Gorky: Works and Writings. Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafica, 2009. Monograph, ill. in color, p. 153, as "Aerial Map".
Theriault, Kim S. Rethinking Arshile Gorky. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. Monograph, fig. 32, ill. in b/w, p. 95; ill. in b/w (detail), p. 86, as "Aerial Map".
Alberro, Alexander. "The Apprenticeship of Arshile Gorky: On Arshile Gorky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art." Texte zur Kunst (Cologne) 77 (March 2010), discussed pp. 148, 210, as "Aerial Map".
Georgievska-Shine, Aneta. "Arshile Gorky: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles." ArtUS (Los Angeles), no. 29 (2010), ill. in color, p. 24, as "Aerial Map, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitiations".
Bloom, Tricia Laughlin. Seeing America: The Arc of Abstraction. Newark: Newark Museum of Art, 2019, fig. 42, ill. in color, p. 83, as "Aerial Map".
Patterson, Jody. Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in 1930s New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020, fig. 47, ill. in color (detail), frontispiece; fig. 47, ill. in color, p. 109, as "Aerial Map, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (Newark Airport Murals)".

The canvas was relined.

On loan: Newark Museum, New Jersey, August 25, 1983–present.


In August 1935, Gorky was assigned to the WPA/FAP's Mural Division. In January 1936, his first commission for a single panel, aviation-themed mural at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, was transferred to Newark Airport's newly opened Administration Building. This panel is one of two that formed the "East Wall" series of that mural cycle (see P141).  

Given the overarching title of Aviation: Evolution of Forms Under Aerodynamic Limitations by the WPA/FAP, the mural consisted of ten distinct panels sited for the Administration Building's second-floor foyer. It was executed in oil on canvas and measured approximately 1,530 square feet. By December 1936, Gorky had designated the two-panel "East Wall" series Mechanics of Flying, as it is titled here.1

Due to their size, the ten panels were painted off-site in the seventh-floor workshop of the FAP's Midtown headquarters at 6 East 39th Street. According to an internal WPA memo dated June 25, 1937: "All the Gorky murals are accepted. Mr. Gorky has a few minor changes to make now that they are all installed. It was [also] decided that the walls between the mural paintings are to be white, the pillars in the center of the room light gray."2  Before the end of the month, the completed mural cycle was unveiled to the public. 

In a written statement submitted in December 1936 at the request of the WPA/FAP's Washington office, Gorky offered a description of Mechanics of Flying, elaborating: “I have used morphic shapes: the objects portrayed, a thermometer, hygrometer, anemometer, an airline map of the United States, all have definitely important usage in aviation, and to emphasize this, I have given them importance by detaching them from their environment."3 Of mural painting in general, he affirmed: "In these times, it is of sociological importance that everything should stand on its own merit, always keeping its individuality. I much prefer that the mural fall out of the wall, than harmonize with it. Mural painting should not become architecture. . . . [I]t should never be confused with walls, windows, doors, or any other anatomical blueprints."4

Between April 1941 and March 1948, the Administration Building was requisitioned by the War Department. During this time, all ten of Gorky's panels were concealed by structural remodeling and repainting. In 1972, under the direction of Ruth Bowman (1923–2018), then a curator at New York University’s Art Collections, traces of canvas thread were discovered beneath an accumulated fourteen layers of paint. After extensive restoration work, in late 1976, both "East Wall" panels were recovered (P141w and P141v). They are the only two remaining canvas panels. Gorky, notably, never traveled by airplane. 

1.Arshile Gorky, "My Murals for the Newark Airport: An Interpretation," 1936, handwritten manuscript [holograph], viii, AGF Archives.

2. Olive M. Lyford (Special Representative, WPA/FAP, N.J.), "Newark Airport Projects [Minutes]," June 25, 1937, AGF Archives.

3. Gorky, "My Murals for the Newark Airport," viii.

4. Ibid, iv.

Related Work

Theme: Mural