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  • November 2011
    M T W T F S S

Diego Rivera- A Man with a Message He Wasn’t Paid to Send

Posted by Anna Kozlova on November 28, 2011

Looking at the images by Diego Rivera in MoMA made it obvious why he was hired to paint a mural in Rockefeller Center. His paintings teem with life and feeling, and the humanity that shines through them. Even more haunting works, such as “Frozen Assets” portray human emotion in a single image. As the wealthy put away their assets, the poor are “put away” under the exponential growth of the city.  In a center meant to reflect the movement, cluster, and life of the city, such art would fit in beautifully and reflect its spirit. It would seem as if nothing could go wrong for Rockefeller’s vision, except for one distinct fact.

Diego Rivera had an agenda on his mind.

While the main essence of Rockefeller center is the hustle and bustle of capitalism, Rivera was a staunch communist, disgusted by what he saw as depravity in the city.  When asked to paint he accepted, and gave in a sketch that was approved. However, he deviated from the original, intending to send his own message to New York. His viewpoint can be clearly seen in images and recreations of the original. On one half of the painting, there is war and strife, with images of venereal disease, and the prohibitionist Rockefeller enjoying a drink. On the other, Lenin sits and brings together a peaceful crowd of people. Despite warnings and threats, Rivera refused to change the offending details, and the mural was destroyed.

Was it correct to destroy a work of art as beautiful, though agitating, as Rivera’s “Man at the Crossroads?” While it is a shame to have a masterpiece destroyed, the decision was sound. Rivera was commissioned to paint a specific vision, and even provided a sketch that passed scrutiny. He gave in a “faulty product,” which did not match what his customer requested. He brought the destruction of the mural upon himself. What could Rivera have hoped to accomplish? Action along these lines would have inevitably been taken. It seems that his ultimate goal was the news and discussion once the conflict came to light.

I believe that the fuss surrounding Rivera’s “Man at the Crossroads” created more interest and intrigue than could ever have been generated by a more politically correct painting. I have heard of Rivera prior to reading Delirious New York and visiting MoMA because of this very reason. I’ve never previously heard of the artist whose mural ultimately filled the void. If any lesson can be taken from the whole ordeal, it is that while art is lasting, the stories behind it bring it to light.  For this reason, it is greatly beneficial to know the history behind the art and construction of sites such as the Rockefeller Center. It brings a human and tangible feel to an otherwise imposing building mass. Rockefeller and Rivera were human, and their human desires and ambitions are what led to Rockefeller Center’s present incarnation. Neglecting its history would be akin to missing the bigger picture.

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