Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Catalogue Entry

Photo: © Arshile Gorky Estate Archive
Gouache on paper
Dimensions unknown
Neither recto nor verso seen
Federal Art Project Gallery, New York, Murals for Public Buildings, December 27, 1935–[closing date unknown], as Aviation.
"W.P.A. Murals Are Too Much For LaGuardia." New York Herald Tribune, December 28, 1935, discussed p. 5, as Aviation.
Gorky, Arshile. Camouflage. New York: Grand Central School of Art, 1942, ill. in b/w (repr. 90 degrees counterclockwise), cover, as "Mural — Newark Airport."
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. 141j, ill. in b/w, p. 274, as "Sketch for Activities on the Field, left panel."
Patterson, Jody. Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in 1930s New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020, fig. 57, ill. in b/w, p. 121.


Given its inclusion in the Federal Art Project Gallery's opening exhibition Murals for Public Buildings in December 1935 (as Aviation), to date, the drawing is the earliest, and only, confirmed preparatory work created exclusively for Gorky's unrealized mural commission in the Administration Building at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York (see D0635 and D0638). Awarded in August 1935, Floyd Bennett was Gorky's first assignment as a member of the Mural Division in the Works Progress Administration's newly established Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP).

Under the assignment, Gorky was to create a single aviation-themed panel, measuring approximately 720 square feet, for the building's interior. According to Burgoyne Diller (1906–1965), director of the Mural Division in New York (1935–40), the final proposal was conceived as a "montage of photo-enlargements and paintings," incorporating select photographs of airplanes and airports by the photographer, Wyatt Davis (1906–1984), whom Gorky had known since 1927.1

D1618 is known from two press photographs of Gorky and Mayor Fiorella H. La Guardia (1882–1947) in front of the drawing at the opening of Murals for Public Buildings. In one of the two, Gorky illustratively guides the Mayor to an aspect of his design. The only known remaining documentation of D1618 is a black-and-white photographic reproduction in Gorky's library, likely taken by a WPA project photographer (unidentified). The original drawing is presumed destroyed.

Although both Alfred H. Barr Jr. (1902–1981), director of the Museum of Modern Art, and Holger Cahill (1887–1960), national director of the FAP, advocated for Gorky's proposal, the Floyd Bennett commission was ultimately awarded to Eugene Chodorow (1910–2000). This was likely due, in large part, to Mayor La Guardia's vocal criticisms. As quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, just one day after he and Gorky were photographed together: "[Mayor La Guardia] attended the opening . . . and found that several of the murals scheduled to adorn public buildings in New York City were beyond his comprehension. . . . Mr. Gorky told the Mayor that the abstractionist did not use 'old fashioned colors,' tried to show all sides of an object at the same time, and viewed a round ball as flat. The Mayor wrinkled his brow. 'I'm a conservative in my art, as I am a progressive in my politics,' he said. 'That’s why perhaps I cannot understand it.'"2

In January 1936, Gorky was reassigned to the recently opened Administration Building at Newark Airport in New Jersey, where he completed a ten-panel mural cycle, measuring approximately 1,530 square feet (see P141). His final designs for Newark stemmed, in large part, from his earlier designs for Floyd Bennett, but no longer incorporated the photographs of Wyatt Davis. 

1. Letter from Burgoyne Diller to Wolfgang and Ethel Schwabacher, c. November 1949, Arshile Gorky Research Collection (1936–1993), Francis Mulhall Achilles Library, Archives, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; see also: Ruth Bowman, Murals without Walls: Arshile Gorky’s Aviation Murals Rediscovered, exh. cat. (Newark, N.J.: Newark Museum, 1978), 24.

2. “W.P.A. Murals are Too Much for LaGuardia: ‘If Abstractions Are Art, I Belong to Tammany,’ He Says at Gallery Debut,” New York Herald Tribune, December 28, 1935.

Gorky and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia at the opening of the Federal Art Project Gallery, New York, December 27, 1935.
Photo: Arshile Gorky Estate Archive
Gorky and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia at the opening of the Federal Art Project Gallery, New York, December 27, 1935. The mayor is being given a copy of the Artists' Union publication Art Front.
Photo: Frances Mulhall Achilles Library, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Related Work

Theme: Mural