This week Josh and I had what I would like to call “The Day of Diego.” We went to several places around Mexico City to look at murals by Diego Rivera, and they are amazing. My pictures here won’t really be able to give you a good idea of what these things are like in person.
Maybe you’ve seen the recent movie “Frida” with Salma Hayek? Yes, it is true, Diego Rivera was the on-again, off-again husband of Frida Kahlo, but as far as I understand, Frida’s fame has only recently surpassed Diego’s. Back in the day, I think he was more well-known. I don’t have a lot of biographical information for you about him right now (although I am hoping to get a book about him soon) but I do know that (true to what you may already know) he was not a very attractive person, but he was still quite a womanizer. I think this was probably aided by his fame in Mexico at the time. But he was also known to be quite a storyteller, and so was Frida, which is why many of the stories that they told about themselves were not always true. When learning about them, it’s very difficult to separate fact and fiction. Both Frida and Diego loved their country and (in my personal opinion) created stories about who they were in order to tie their identities to Mexico in such a way that they have almost become legends themselves.
Rivera had very strong political views. He liked Marx and wove socialist ideas into many of his huge murals. I’m certainly not advocating any such political views here, but I do like to talk about the question of censorship in art when I talk about Rivera. For example, the large mural in the National Palace of Mexico, which is the equivalent of the White House, (some pictures are below) shows the history of government repressing the people and that the people get their true freedom in the end when they overthrow the government and the upper class. It’s amazing to me that the government was excited about having this kind of mural in their building. But, I’m guessing that they probably knew what they would get when they asked Rivera to do it.
John D. Rockefeller did not know what he was getting. In 1932, Rockefeller’s wife convinced him to have Rivera come and paint a huge new mural in his new building in Rockefeller Center. Rivera’s concept was “Man at the Crossroads,” of science, industry, socialism and capitalism. True to his political convictions, central to the painting he portrayed an image of Lenin guiding the people. There was obviously a backlash from the American public about this, and after barring Rivera from the location with the painting only partially completed, the workers at the Rockefeller center demolished the mural in 1934. Rivera went on to repaint it in full in the Bellas Artes in Mexico City (I also have pictures of it below.) He also added John D. Rockefeller’s portrait to the mural, depicted in a nightclub. In college I studied this event in relation to the question of art censorship, especially with regard to how much control that patrons, museums, or outside companies do have or should have on art.
Anyway, I think he’s a strange and interesting person, and his art gives you a lot to think about in relation to Mexico and it’s long cultural and political history. Hopefully you can see some of that in the pictures below (and these are only a portion of the ones I took! There are so many murals!)
Rivera’s representation of what the Aztec people were like that lived in the area that has now become Mexico City. Take a look at the temples and the rivers in the background. That’s what we are living on top of right now!
In this mural, Diego has represented himself as a boy, holding hands with Katerina, the skeletal figure that has come to represent the Day of the Dead (which happens in early November). Frida is still her grown-up self, standing behind Diego. I wonder if this is any sort of commentary on their relationship…?