SFMOMA’s Diego Rivera Exhibits Summer Hit Art Event

SFMOMA celebrates the work of renowned Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Considered a summer hit art event, the new exhibition: Diego Rivera’s America is a massive exhibition of the artist’s murals, paintings, drawings, murals and immersive projections.

Some works have never been seen in public before. Other works haven’t been seen in about 80 to 90 years, said guest curator James Oles.

“We collected works from museums in the U.S., private collections, works coming from Mexico,” Oles said. “Even Diego Rivera’s researchers are surprised by the things we’ve found.”

Art lovers will enjoy this rare in-depth look at what is considered one of Rivera’s most comprehensive exhibits in more than two decades. It includes more than 150 works from what curators call his “rich period,” spanning mainly the 1920s to the 1940s.

The exhibition’s name derives from the concept of Rivera’s relationship with America; how it physically moved across North America and the imprint it left in places like Mexico City, New York, Detroit, and right here in San Francisco.

Oles tapped into Rivera’s faith in art to inspire change. His work transformed Mexican national identity, igniting a sense of national pride, but also explored the continent’s shared indigenous origins.

Pieces like The tortilla maker and Weaving are shining examples of this theme and how it highlights the mundaneness of people’s daily lives in vivid exhibitions of a rich cultural heritage.

My Comrade’s Children (My Comrade’s Children) 1930

Those familiar with Rivera’s work know of his commitment to social equality, the proletariat factory workers of his era, and depictions of the industrial assembly line as social commentary. That’s how he came to “celebrate the machine age” and “pay homage to the working class,” as the text on the exhibition wall says.

No wonder the curators put Detroit, one of the world’s major industrial centers in the 1930s, on Diego Rivera’s map of America. While curators couldn’t move his murals from places like the Detroit Institute of Arts, it’s still stunning to see how he planned these spectacular works with the display of his original drawings, sometimes done in charcoal.

Exhibit from SFMOMA’s Diego Rivera’s America exhibit. Opens July 16, 2022.

Diego Rivera’s connection to the Bay Area

Rivera was one of several artists employed in the 1920s to paint murals in public buildings.

Here are some interesting Bay Area tidbits.

His first trip to San Francisco was in 1930, the second was in 1940. Allegory of California was commissioned for The Pacific Stock Exchange Luncheon Club, now the City Club, an “Art Deco jewel” located at 155 Sansome Street. Again, we rely on projection instead of the somewhat inaccessible mural. “The City Club mural is not the easiest to look at,” agrees Oles. The mural in downtown San Francisco can be seen, but on a guided tour.

While you’re on the subject, you can also see his work from 1931. The creation of a fresco showing the building of a cityin person at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Did you know that Rivera was originally commissioned to create a mosaic mural for the facade of the Paramount Theater in Oakland in 1930? Now you can get a rare look at his first design proposals, which look very different from what Gerald Fitzgerald ended up creating on architect Timothy Pfluger’s building.

For those visiting SFMOMA, one of the real treats is the 10-panel portable fresco, Pan American unityon lease from City College until 2024

This larger-than-life work is not to be missed. It arrived in 2021 and is on display in a more prominent location, free to the public on the first floor of the museum. This is a clear example of Rivera’s vision of a greater America in which unity, not division, is paramount in Mexico-US relations. It was also his last mural in the US, created for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1940.

Diego Rivera’s America opens at SFMOMA on July 16 with a free Community Day, Sunday, July 17 from 10 am to 5 pm. This in-depth exhibition is full of surprises and runs through January 2023.

Original designs for the Oakland Paramount Theatre. From Diego Rivera’s America by SFMOMA.

Banana costume design for Diego Rivera’s ballet HP (Horsepower) from America by SFMOMA.

Tobacco Costume for Diego Rivera’s HP (Horse Power) Ballet of America at SFMOMA.

“Study for a Mural” from America by Diego Rivera from SFMOMA.

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