Where's the Art?
The Federal Trade Commission building, like many within the Federal Triangle, benefited greatly from the New Deal fine arts programs. Leading sculptors of the era were selected to complete the four over door bas relief panels and eagle medallions. A nationwide open competition was held to select the artist for the pair of large sculptures, Man Controlling Trade, that flank the building on Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues. The aluminum night gates depict various methods of trade transportation. All of the artwork is publicly accessible and serves to visually represent the role of the FTC in regulating trade.
Man Controlling Trade
Two equestrian statutes, depicting Man Controlling Trade, flank the apex building. One of the most recognizable icons of the Triangle, the statues were created by Michael Lantz. Commissioned through the Section of Painting and Sculpture, an open design competition was held for the sculptures. Over two hundred artists submitted designs. When he received the commission in 1938, Lantz was 29 years old and living in an abandoned chlorinating plant. It was the middle of the Great Depression and Lantz was earning $96 a month as a Works Progress Administration sculptor instructor in New Rochelle, NY. Lantz was so poor he had to borrow money for the required competition surety bond from his brother Walter Lantz, the cartoonist who created Woody Woodpecker.
The commission prize of $45,600 was considered an enormous sum during the Depression era and the announcement of Lantz's award received publicity throughout the country. As a result, he received hundreds of unsolicited marriage proposals from unknown women. But the prize money had to cover the cost of materials and pay for assistants to help carve the statues. By the time the horse figures were installed in 1941, Lantz was once again broke.
New Deal Art Programs
During the New Deal era, the U.S. Government administered four separate art projects that operated from 1933 to 1943. The projects produced thousands of paintings, sculpture, and works on paper.
Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), 1933-1934: The Public Works of Art Project was the first federal art project for artists. Artists were on payrolls and received weekly salaries.
The Section of Fine Arts (The Section), 1934-1943: Originally called the Section of Painting and Sculpture, the Section of Fine Arts awarded commissions to artists through competitions. The primary objective was to secure the best quality artwork for installation into public buildings.
Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), 1935-1938: Though it was under the supervision of the Treasury Department, the Treasury Relief Art Project employed artists to create paintings and sculptures for existing federal buildings.
Works Progress Administration, Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP), 1935-1942: The Federal Art Project was the largest of the New Deal art programs in both its scope and the number of artists employed.
These four programs produced thousands of works of art from 1933 to 1943. In 1934, the federal government began loaning or allocating the moveable artworks created under the New Deal art programs to public agencies and nonprofit institutions. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is the federal agency that is responsible for inventorying these loaned artworks. For site-specific works permanently installed in federal buildings, such as large murals and sculpture, GSA acts as the direct steward, overseeing the care of this important national cultural resource.
GSA Fine Art Collection
The GSA Fine Arts Program manages the collection of fine art found throughout executive branch federal buildings in order to ensure its safety, accessibility, preservation, and appropriate use in order to enhance and promote high-quality work environments for federal agencies and the public they serve. The Fine Arts Collection is one of our nation's oldest and largest public art collections. It consists of permanently installed and moveable mural paintings, sculptures, architectural or environmental works of art, and works on paper dating from 1850 to the present. These civic works of art are in federal buildings and courthouses across the United States. In addition, more than 20,000 small moveable New Deal works of art are on long-term loan to museums and other nonprofit institutions. Maintained by GSA as a part of our national and cultural heritage, the Fine Arts Collection serves as a reminder of the important tradition of individual creative expression.