Diego Rivera and the Rockefeller commission

Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo are undoubtedly Mexico’s most famous 20th century artists.  But even the mightiest of artists do not have carte blanche to do as they please when commissioned by a powerful arts patron, as I recently learned from the intimate exhibition Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art at MoMA running until 14 May 2012.

For the first time in 80 years, the show reunites murals commissioned from Rivera for his solo show in 1931.  Rivera was invited to MoMA to work for 6 weeks on 8 portable murals.  These were received with much acclaim and enthusiasm and even though the tone of the subject matter was socialist, (repeated images of workers being repressed by capitalism) the show was a blockbuster, breaking attendance records for the new museum.
It is during this time that the Rockefeller Center commission came about. These murals no longer exist, destroyed by orders of Nelson Rockefeller (his father John D. commissioned the artist) for showing overtly communist messages – one mural had an image of Lenin – in an America struggling with ideology differences. What do exist are the sketches for the Rockefeller commission, along with photographs and correspondence from Rockefeller to Rivera which shed light on the controversy.
I was especially attracted to the sketches Rivera did of the construction crews working on the great skyscrapers going up in New York at the time.  They capture the total transformation of the 19th century city into the metropolis of steel and glass that we know as New York today.
Check it out.  Definitely a must-see exhibit.
all image credits: MoMA. Diego Rivera. Sketches of New York construction sites. 1931–32. Ink, charcoal, and watercolor on paper. Each page: 5 1/8 x 6 3/4″ (13 x 17 cm). Private collection. Photographs by Francisco Kochen
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