By Clare Hurley in the USA:
Diego Rivera at the Museum of Modern Art: Then and now—revolutionary art for revolutionary times
21 December 2011
Diego Rivera murals for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City
November 13, 2011 through May 14, 2012
The Museum of Modern Art’s curators could hardly have known that Occupy Wall Street protesters would be evicted from their encampment in downtown Manhattan the same week that their exhibition of Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) opened in November, but the coincidence has been widely commented on.
Rivera’s name has become virtually synonymous with epic murals of social revolution in the first decades of the 20th century. Given the appropriate update, his image of a soldier lunging, sword drawn, across a woman and child to attack a crowd of workers in The Uprising, might have been drawn from today’s news.
In this context, the modest scale of the exhibit at MoMA might be a disappointment, especially when compared to the exhaustive retrospectives that the museum regularly awards to major artists from the modernist canon. (Coinciding with the Rivera exhibit, a much larger show of Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning took up the museum’s entire sixth floor.)
However, the impact of the Rivera murals, under conditions where the first significant social struggles in several decades are erupting in the United States, is not diminished by the exhibit’s size. …
Another section of the exhibition is devoted to the ill-fated mural Man at the Crossroads. While at work on the MoMA murals, Rivera received the commission to create one for Rockefeller Center, then under construction, which appears at the center of Frozen Assets.
Abby Rockefeller’s son, Nelson [the youthful future governor of New York and US vice president], and his advisors determined the mural’s subject: “Man at the crossroads and looking with uncertainty but with hope and high vision to the choosing of a course leading to a new and better future.” The pompous ambiguity of the theme was echoed by similar verbiage in Rivera’s proposal. He then proceeded to design a mural showing humanity’s liberation from tyranny and war through what seemed at the time to be fantastical technology. The mock-up for the mural includes cinema cameras, televisions, space ships, etc.
Lest the point be missed that this rational, humane, egalitarian society would be a socialist one, Rivera planned to show a progression from a decadent party scene of millionaires, including a possible likeness of the famously teetotalling John D. Rockefeller, Sr. on the left to one of Lenin leading the working class to victory on the right.
Despite what Kahlo described as “Mrs. R.’s radical taste,” this proved too much for Rivera’s “enlightened” industrialist patrons to take. There’s been debate over which straw actually broke the camel’s back. But in his letter objecting to the inclusion of Lenin, Nelson Rockefeller got to the gist:
“If it were in a private house it would be one thing, but this is in a public building, and the situation is therefore quite different.”
When Rivera refused to replace Lenin’s likeness with that of an “unknown man”, the Rockefellers decided it was time to call a halt to their flirtation with “Red” artists, even as social tensions in the United States entered a far more explosive stage.
In May 1933, Rivera was fired from the project, and mounted police were stationed outside Rockefeller Center to break up the demonstrations that erupted in response.
Cristeo war in Mexico: here.
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