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THE EVOLUTION OF MUSIC
LUCIENNE BLOCH, 1909-1999
FRESCO, 6 PANELS
Among New Deal New York City public school murals, the most outstanding example by a female artist is Lucienne Bloch’s The Evolution of Music, painted in a former high school music room. Bloch was one of the few WPA/FAP artists who had prior training painting murals, and she was well suited to her assignment at George Washington High School. She had already successfully completed one WPA/FAP fresco for the Women’s House of Detention at Riker’s Island. In addition to an apprenticeship with Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera, she had extensive art training, beginning with four years in Paris, where she studied with sculptor Antoine Bourdelle and the cubist painter André Lhote. She supplemented this more conventional training by spending a year in Germany, where she studied industrial design. As a muralist, she was most influenced by Rivera’s conceptual approach and his commitment to the artist’s social responsibility; her interest in promoting harmony among different ethnic groups influenced her approach to both of the commissions she painted in New York City.
Bloch searched for a visual corollary to music and concluded that the only way other than instruments to depict music was through sound waves, and so she organized the mural around an oscillating pattern of lines. The rich earth tones of her panels represent African, Asian, European, and American musical forms and art with a mélange of instruments, patterns, and figures engaged in music and dance. Carefully researched, the mural contains many recognizable details, such as Persian miniatures, Turkish rugs, and a shofar. Wedged between Balinese cymbals and a Medieval harp, stands the Modern Chorus, a positive affirmation of ethnic diversity and racial harmony.
549 AUDUBON AVENUE, MANHATTAN, NY
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