Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

Electric Production and Direction

ca. 1933-1934 William Karp Born: New York, New York 1905 oil on canvas two panels, total: 55 3/4 x 27 1/8 in. (141.7 x 69.0 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor 1964.1.128A-B Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 37A

Luce Center Label

William Karp created Electric Production and Direction as a mural design for the Public Works of Art Project in New York during the 1930s. The image shows disembodied, muscular hands and arms as components in a complex machine. It is difficult to tell who is in control. The hands at the top might be twisting and pulling strings to operate the machine, but the giant eye in the background suggests there is a greater power watching over. Mechanical forms echo the shape of the clenched fist in the center, but the fist is also tightly clamped in place. This sinister combination of flesh and metal evokes a common fear during the 1930s that machines would not only replace factory workers, but would literally absorb them into their clinking, whirring mechanisms.


Allegory - arts and sciences - industry

Allegory - element - energy

Architecture - industry - power plant

Architecture - machine

Figure - fragment - arm

Study - mural study

New Deal - Public Works of Art Project - New York City


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About William Karp

Born: New York, New York 1905