Mexico City with Kevin Sharp, Part Two

Mexico City 

 25-26 January 2015 Part 2   

The next night, our Mexican colleagues treated the rest of the AAMD membership to a cocktail reception and dinner in the Palacio de Bellas Artes.  On our arrival, we entered the actual theater first, an opulent 1000-seat room where Maria Callas and Pavarotti had performed, where any number of other extraordinary artists have made their debuts.  The stage curtain alone is like no other; it is a Tiffany folding glass mosaic constructed of nearly a million pieces.  But it was when we entered the three-story lobby, and found ourselves surrounded by the murals of Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, that we suddenly understood that the building was more than simply beautiful.  We were in a place of powerful instruction, ideology, voice, and vision. The Mexican mural movement was a product of the revolution itself, and for a period of time in the 1920s and 1930s, it bore the message of social change and redistribution of assets as few other vehicles could.   

For me, seeing Diego Rivera's El Hombre En El Cruce de Caminos (Man at the Crossroads) was a powerful and moving experience. The history of the imagery is quite well known.  In 1933, Rivera was commissioned to paint the same theme in Rockefeller Center in New York.  When the face of Vladimir Lenin emerged from Rivera's design, the Rockefellers were unsurprisingly (to everyone but Rivera) disturbed, and asked that it be removed.  Rivera refused, and his Rockefeller Center mural was eventually painted over and destroyed.  But if anything, the work that never was became an even more potent symbol of artistic integrity in the face of censoring patronage than it would have been as a paean to Socialist ideals. The following year, Rivera returned to Mexico City and reprised the mural on the west wall of the Palacio's third floor. I could not help but be almost transfixed as I stood before it.       

In Rivera's Man at the Crossroads, a figure at the center of the composition operates the machinery that contributes to his own demise.  He is moving levers as he gazes to the heavens.  The man is surrounded by marching faceless armies, mounted police, peaceful demonstrators, and fashionable capitalists enjoying their leisure on one side, and by unified Socialists, a group of hale female athletes, and by Lenin himself on the other.  The man at the crossroads can only look on as the resources of the world are ground by the gears of industry into the fuel of capitalist excess.  A massive right, holding a glowing orb with chronometers inside, emerges from a strange portal just below him.  When will it all be gone, it all seems to ask, when will it all be consumed? Our day of destruction may have seemed near to Rivera in 1934, but it sometimes feels more than eighty years closer today.

Posted by Chantal Drake at 1:28 PM
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