Murals for a modern world: Diego Rivera at MoMA

When I saw the Diego Rivera frescoes at the MoMA, what immediately came to mind was the timeliness of the exhibit.  The frescos were originally commissioned by the museum in 1931, during the Great Depression and a time of great social unrest in Rivera’s native Mexico.  And here we are, looking back at these frescos for the first time since they were originally exhibited, in a new age of economic hardship and social movements.  Though the circumstances are of course very different, works like Frozen Assets neatly illuminates the contradictions of city life that exist then and now.

The author of an article in Art In America makes an interesting point about the physical nature of the MoMA frescoes, which due to practical constraints had to be painted on freestanding supports rather than on walls (as Rivera’s work is known for).  He considers the frescoes to be “snapshots” of Rivera’s original murals, which on the one hand can be seen as a watering-down of his original revolutionary message, to be viewed within the safe confines of a private museum.  However, when set against the backdrop of the current Occupy movement–which finds its home in public spaces–there is a certain appeal to these portable murals that are “awaiting their buildings”: we have yet to build the structures in which such ideals can flourish.

Though anachronistic to the time in which the frescoes were created, I think this is a compelling idea, and a rather hopeful way of looking at Rivera’s work today.  I love murals—especially social-minded ones—for the way overtake a space, demand attention, and promote a new way of seeing and thinking about the world.  These individual panels clearly do something else, but to me, they represent parts of a whole.  Especially by looking back on them and at that time, the murals suggest what was absent then, and what still could be.

“Occupy Wall” from Art In America

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