In 1937, Stuart Davis received a commission from the WPA Federal Art Project to paint a mural for a low-income public housing development in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Then, the neighborhood was a down-market blue-collar enclave, rather than today’s hotbed of trendy, aspiring young artists). Hiring Davis, a radical modernist who spoke a slangy American dialect of Cubism, was a daring move on the part of Burgoyne Diller, the head of the WPA’s Mural Division in New York. The American Scene painters’ idealized farm workers and factory hands were more or less the nation’s official public art of the time, but Diller—who also awarded commissions to vanguardists such as Balcomb Greene, Ilya Bolotowsky, George McNeil, and Willem de Kooning—believed that the Williamsburg tenants, many of them factory workers, “would find painted images of more machines and factories neither...

 
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