Stuart Davis created New York Mural in response to a 1932 invitation from the Museum of Modern Art to design a work on the theme of post–World War I life for an exhibition of American mural designs. In his painting, Davis adapted the flat, bold style of advertising to depict images associated with New York politics—specifically those related to Alfred Smith, New York’s four-term governor and the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate, whose opposition to Prohibition Davis applauded. Visible here are Smith’s trademark brown derby hat and bow tie; the Empire State Building, for which the governor served as publicist; a banana, alluding to his campaign’s adaptation of the popular tune “Yes! We Have No Bananas”; an upturned champagne glass, referencing his support for Prohibition’s repeal; and a tiger’s head and tail, symbols of New York’s Democratic Tammany Hall political machine, with which Smith was affiliated.
The artist Jim Shaw is a connoisseur of eccentricities. Along with the artist Mike Kelley, he initiated the punkification of contemporary art, and his New Museum retrospective is jam-packed with freaky works.