Electric Production and Direction

Media - 1964.1.128A-B - SAAM-1964.1.128A-B_1 - 87713
Copied William Karp, Electric Production and Direction, ca. 1933-1934, oil on canvas, two panels, total: 55 3427 18 in. (141.769.0 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.128A-B

Artwork Details

Electric Production and Direction
ca. 1933-1934
two panels, total: 55 3427 18 in. (141.769.0 cm.)
upper panel (A) upper left in oil: W. Karp lower panel (B) lower left in oil: William Karp lower panel stretcher in black paint: William Karp 126 East 16th St. upper panel stretcher in black paint: William Karp, 126 E. 16th St.; NYRC-2523
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Landscape
  • Architecture — machine
  • Figure — fragment — arm
  • Study — mural study
  • Allegory — element — energy
  • Allegory — arts and sciences — industry
  • Architecture — industry — power plant
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — New York City
Object Number

Artwork Description

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.