April 20, 2013

Latin American Artists in Nueva York: Diego Rivera

Now we can start on the artists - like I said before, I've got more information on Mexican artists than others so this is heavily skewed to them. There were plenty of other Latin American artists in New York during this time period, but not as much info on them. So, first up is Diego Rivera...

Diego Rivera in New York

He came to New York with his yet-unknown-artist/wife Frida Kahlo - nowadays more people know her than him, but back then, it was the other way around. He was fascinated by the modern technology that the city was using. Because he leaned heavily towards leftist politics, Rivera thought modern technology would free up the workers from hard labor tasks. 

The reason he saw all this modern technology at work was because the city was expanding greatly. It was the age of the skyscrapers in New York. Rivera created a three-piece mural for his successful MoMA exhibit in 1931-1932 and the subject had to do with this modern technology.

"Pneumatic Drill", Diego Rivera, 1931-2, via MoMA
 The first painting was called "Pneumatic Drill." This depicts the construction done for the Rockefeller Center, a place that will factor scandalously into Rivera's life a little later. The workers all have indistinct faces that imply they are simply hired hands. I found it interesting how the modern machine is in the front, but there are men using old technology (axes and such) in the background. It shows how old technology is the past and the new technology is the future.

"Frozen Assets", Diego Rivera, 1931-2, via MoMA
The next painting, "Frozen Assets," shows the city on three levels. The uppermost level is the newly-built skyscrapers in New York. The middle level shows a warehouse or homeless shelter full of homeless men, packed together and watched over by a guard. They were most likely the workers on these skyscrapers. In this painting, it appears that they are the foundation of the skyscrapers in the way they are positioned. In the bottom level, the rich are in a bank's safety vault, storing or reviewing their enormous wealth. Notice how this painting contrasts the few rich people at the bottom level with the vast number of homeless in the middle level.

"Electric Power", Diego Rivera, 1931-2 via MoMA

The last mural, "Electric Power," depicts workers in the Hudson Avenue Power Station where they generated steam power for the city during that time. Again, the workers aren't showing their faces, but two of them are looking at sources of light, which could signify that they are hopeful for the future.

Although Rivera was successful in New York at this time, he also was plagued by scandal. He was commissioned by Rockefeller Jr. to create a mural in the Rockefeller Center titled "Man at Crossroads." After placing Lenin's face in the mural, there was such an outcry in the press that Rockefeller was forced to tear down the mural. Or so they say...

"Man at Crossroads," Diego Rivera, 1934, via PBS

Another version that has been hypothesized is that Rockefeller was actually okay with Lenin's face on the mural. But what he didn't approve of was his own face on the mural. Rivera may have painted him in, drinking and dancing with women. Considering Rockefeller was religious (a Baptist) and a Prohibitionist, this personal insult was too much for him. This hypothesis may be true because Rivera later recreated the mural in Mexico and it had the scene with Rockefeller partying in it.

Lending credence to this belief of the personal slight is that Rockefeller ordered the mural destroyed while he was in negotiations with the MoMA for them to take the mural off his hands. Why would he have not sold the mural to the MoMA if only Lenin's face bugged him? He was a business man after all. 

Stay tuned for info and analysis on Orozco and Tamayo next time!

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