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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, 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.