Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Catalogue Entry

P141w
Mechanics of Flying
1936–37
Oil on canvas
111 x 136 in. (281.9 x 345.4 cm)
Front not inscribed
Reverse not seen
Exhibitions
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. 1, ill. in color, p. 65 and cover, as Mechanics of Flying. Traveled to: Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, New York, July 1–August 6, 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. 88, ill. in color, p. 133, as Mechanics of Flying. Traveled to: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, September 11–November 8, 1981; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 3, 1981–February 28, 1982.
Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Léger and the Modern Spirit: An Avant-Garde Alternative to Non Objective Art (1918–1931) / Léger et l'esprit moderne: une alternative d'avant-garde à l'art non-objectif (1918–1931), March 17–June 6, 1982, no. 10, ill. in b/w, p. 323, as "Mechanics of Flying / Mécaniques de vol." Traveled to: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, July 9–September 5, 1982; Musée Rath, Geneva, November 4, 1982–January 16, 1983.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010, no. 84, ill. in color, pp. 240–01, as "Mechanics of Flying, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (Newark Airport Mural)." Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010. (Gale 2010).; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 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. 6, p. 24, as Mechanics of Flying. Traveled to: Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, June 26–September 5, 2010.
Literature
Hess, Thomas B. "Arshile Gorky Flies Again." New York (September 12 1977), ill. in color, p. 85.
"First Photos Of The Restored Newark Murals.", ill., p. 7.
"Gallery Talk on Lost Mural." Observer (Kearny, NJ), November 9, 1978, discussed, as Mechanics of Flying.
"Murals Without Walls." News Notes (The Newark Museum) (NJ) 35 (November 1978), ill. in b/w, p. 1, as Mechanics of Flying.
Russell, John. "Art: Lost Murals of Arshile Gorky." New York Times, November 24, 1978, discussed p. 65, as Mechanics of Flying.
Ashbery, John. "Sweet Arshile, Bless Your Dear Heart." New York 12 (February 5, 1979), discussed pp. 52–53.
Howard, Hugh. "The Case Of the Vanishing Murals." American Way (Miami) (November 1979), discussed p. 117, as Mechanics of Flying.
"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 Mechanics of Flying.
Shirey, David L. "Discovery in Newark: Works of Gorky." New York Times, February 4, 1979, ill. in b/w, section 11, p. 1 (upside down), as a "recently discovered panel."
Schwartz, Ellen. "The Gorky Murals: A Bit of Detective Work." Artnews (New York) 78, no. 2 (February 1979), discussed p. 137.
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: Mechanics of Flying."
Shirey, David L. "Gorky's Airport Murals at the Newark Museum." New York Times, June 13, 1982, discussed p. 26, as Mechanics of Flying.
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. 141w, ill. in b/w, pp. 278–79, as Mechanics of Flying, left panel.
Lader, Melvin P. Arshile Gorky. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. Monograph, fig. 48, ill. in color, p. 54, as "The Mechanics of Flying, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations."
Wallis, Stephen. "The Federal Art Project: A New Deal for Artists." Art & Antiques (New York) 19 (June 1996), ill. in color, p. 58; discussed p. 61, as Mechanics of Flying.
Herrera, Hayden. Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003, fig. 29, ill. in color, as "Mechanics of Flying, Newark Airport."
Matttison, Robert S. Arshile Gorky: Works and Writings. Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafica, 2009. Monograph, ill. in color, p. 152, as Mechanics of Flying.
Voves, Ed. "Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art." California Literary Review (Carlsbad, CA) (November 9 2009), ill. in color, as Mechanics of Flying.
Theriault, Kim S. Rethinking Arshile Gorky. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. Monograph, pl. 13, ill. in color, as Mechanics of Flying.
Alberro, Alexander. "The Apprenticeship of Arshile Gorky: On Arshile Gorky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art." Texte zur Kunst (Cologne) 77 (March 2010), ill. in b/w, p. 209, as "The Mechanics of Flying, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations."
Gale, Matthew. Arshile Gorky: Enigma and Nostalgia. London: Tate Publishing, 2010. Exhibition catalogue (2009–10 Philadelphia), no. 17, ill. in color, p. 43, as Mechanics of Flying.
Spender, Matthew, ed. Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents. Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018, ill. in color, p. 118, as "Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations: Mechanics of Flying."
Patterson, Jody. Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in 1930s New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020, fig. 46, ill. in color (detail), p. 104; fig. 46, ill. in color, p. 108; fig. 44, ill. in b/w, p. 107, as "Mechanics of Flying, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (Newark Airport Murals)."
Notes
The painting was relined. No documentation of the reverse of the original canvas has been made available.
On loan: Newark Museum, New Jersey, August 25, 1983–present.

Commentary

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).  

Titled Aviation: Evolution of Forms Under Aerodynamic Limitations, by the WPA/FAP, the mural consisted of ten-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

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 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.

Related Work

Theme: Mural

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