Abstract Murals of the WPA

WNYC Radio Station

Municipal Office Building, One Centre Street, Manhattan

As part of a complete reconstruction of the then City-owned radio station, artists Byron Browne, Stuart Davis, John Von Wicht, and Louis Schanker were commissioned to create murals for the new studios. The WPA’s booklet for the opening of the station noted that the artists were responsible for planning the “decoration of the entire studio, coordinating architecture, interior decoration, furnishings and the murals as one modern, functional entity.” While the paintings did reference tools of the radio station such as music stands, radio tubes, musical instruments, and compositions, they were mostly abstract so as not to distract the viewer but to “[exercise] a soothing influence through the proper use of form and color.” Abstraction was promoted as “particularly suited for use in a modern broadcasting studio, where everything must contribute to quiet and the uninterrupted function of the broadcast.”

Byron Browne’s mural was severely damaged in the mid-1990s, but thanks to the efforts of the Art Commission, the Dormitory Authority of New York, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, it was recently conserved and installed in the new Staten Island Courthouse. Stuart Davis’s mural is on long-term loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and will be included in an upcoming exhibition on Davis. John Von Wicht’s mural is on long-term loan at the Brooklyn Public Library. Louis Schanker’s mural is still installed on the 25th floor of the Municipal Building.

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