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Diego Rivera: 1886-1957: Artist

Success And Defeat North Of The Border

Rivera began to experience international fame in the 1930s beginning with a one-man retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the fall of 1931. It was a spectacular success drawing nearly 57,000 spectators and cementing Rivera's role as one of the twentieth century's greatest living artists. He was soon offered a commission to paint the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Funded by Edsel Ford, Rivera began painting on July 25, 1932 and the finished work was unveiled in March of the following year. According to Smithsonian, "Engineers inspecting [the murals] expressed amazement at the sophisticated selection of key elements and the fidelity of reproduction. Non-mechanical viewers were surprised at the way in which Rivera could make turbines, conveyor belts and stamping machines look sensual." Now considered unrivaled masterpieces, at the time of their completion the frescoes caused conservative groups to immediately call for the murals' dismantling, calling them "unpatriotic," "pornographic," and "Communistic." Meanwhile, union workers volunteered to protect the murals which accurately depicted the inner workings of an auto plant and celebrated the laborers. In the end, Edsel Ford defended the work, ensuring its safety and ending the controversy.

While still working in Detroit, Rivera was hired to paint a mural in the new RCA Building at the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. The theme was "Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future." Other than the title, Rivera expected to have full artistic control. One of the earliest sections completed showed Soviet workers at a May Day celebration in Moscow. This prompted one journalist to write a critical review of the work in the entitled "Rivera Paints Scenes of Communist Activity and John D. Jr. Foots Bill." The Rockefellers became uneasy. Unease turned to anger a month later when a Rivera included a portrait of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. The Rockefellers asked Rivera to remove the figure. When Rivera offered instead to include Abraham Lincoln as a balance to the Soviet leader, correspondence ended. Rivera was asked to stop painting. The media went wild with the story debating issues of censorship and patriotism. Crowds of Rivera supporters and detractors descended on the site daily. Finally Rivera was dismissed. He soon lost other mural commissions in the United States and returned defeated to Mexico in 1934. That February, under cover of night, workers wielding axes were dispatched to destroy the fresco.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyDiego Rivera: 1886-1957: Artist Biography - Began Drawing As A Toddler, Arrived In Europe As A Young Man, Returned To Mexico, Became A Muralist