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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 20th century: Machinery (Abstract #2)
Machinery (Abstract #2)


Machinery (Abstract #2)
about 1933-34
Paul Kelpe
oil on canvas
38 1/4 x 26 3/8 in. (97.0 x 67.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
1964.1.27
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"I compose my paintings of form and color, like a musician composes music with rhythm and sound." The artist, 1936, quoted in Manthorne, Paul Kelpe: Abstractions and Constructions, 1925-1940, 1990

The shadowed worker in this painting appears to be controlling the structure, suggesting man's essential role in industry and his ability to create massive, powerful machines. During the Depression, many artists celebrated human achievements in this way, to emphasize the importance of the working class and to boost morale. In 1934, Paul Kelpe worked for the Public Works of Art Project. The program did not accept abstract art, so he incorporated realistic elements such as figures, wheels, and buildings into his compositions. These images were still not "representational enough," however, and he soon gave up trying to please his bosses (Manthorne, Paul Kelpe, Abstractions and Constructions, 1925-1940, 1990).


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