I was absolutely fascinted by the Diego Rivera exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art on Sunday. I went with Virginia and her mom.
The thing that made it so cool is that the exhibit provides a lot of information about the historical context in which Rivera's work was taking place. In fact, the theme of the murals he was commissioned to paint at Rockefeller Center was this: "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."
Gosh, doesn't that in some ways remind you of where we are today??
One of the notes on the painting above, which was probably my favorite: The year 1931 saw both the nadir of the Great Depression and the height of the skyscraper race -- a paradox captured in this work.
Can you see the layers of contrast? The developing skyline on top...beneath, the sleeping bodies of the masses of workers who are building these great new buildings. Below them, the wealthy waiting to enter bank vaults to count their wealth.
I mean -- how timely could this exhibit be, with all of the talk these days about the 99% and the 1% and the protests on Wall Street and elsewhere?
If you've seen the movie "Frida," you may recall the famous scene in which Rivera elects to destroy his frescoes in Rockefeller Center, rather than cede to the demand that he remove Lenin's face from one of the panels. The letters about this were riveting to me, as I personally thought Mr. Rockefeller asked for the change quite politely -- complimenting Rivera's work but noting art to be displayed in a public building was quite different from something he might put in his own home. The exhibit features some rare photos of those murals, taken covertly by one of Rivera's assistants before they were destroyed.
The other thing I found really fascinating -- in line with the "class wars" that seem to have heated up these days -- was the way labor and equality issues were a constant theme in Rivera's works. The exhibit noted much of his content was rooted in Marxism. Rivera was expelled from the Communist Party of Mexico in 1929 in part because of his criticism of Stalinist orthodoxy and sympathy for Lev Trotsky.
I remember hearing about communism in elementary school ad getting it confused with cannibalism! I'm embarrassed to say I really don't feel I have a clear understanding of Communism and Marxism...and it intrigues me that America has such a knee-jerk rejection of Communism when it seems to little ol' moi to be perhaps more compatible with Christianity than capitalism is.
Oh, my! Tangents! But you can see how intrigued I was. Let's just look at some art now, and I'll stop with the political tirade...
The painting above is about electric power and "exposing thee human labor that powers the modern city."
Rivera's style made me wonder how much of his reputation was style versus content -- that is, was he a great artist because of the visuals of what he created? Or did he build a name because he managed to present things in a way that was fresh and relevant for the time? Who are the artists of today who challenge us to think about critical issues of class and politics in a new light? And where does their funding come from?
Now that the weather is cooling off, I look forward to many more "museum days." I loved this quote hanging outside the museum: "Art, like life, is never really ours...but ours to enjoy for as long as we are here." Amen!