Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Lenin destroyed. Diego Riviera's - A Man at the Crossroads

Mexican replacement of the mural destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller because it contained an image of Lenin and a Soviet May Day Parade.

The creattion and destruction of the mural is dramatized in the films Cradle Will Rock (1999) and Frida (2002) as well as the Tamil film Anbe Sivam in which an Indian Communist argues with a supporter of capitalism.

A description of the controversy taken from this Diego Rivera link:

On 24 April 1933 the New York World-Telegram newspaper published an article attacking the mural as anti-capitalist propaganda. A few days later Rivera added the portrait of Lenin to the work. This precipitated a major controversy by May. The bad publicity greatly upset Rockefeller. Rivera was asked to remove the picture of Lenin, but refused, instead offering to add Abraham Lincoln to the work as way of a compromise. Rockefeller then left the decision about the future of the mural to Todd-Robertson-Todd. Rivera was fully paid the promised amount for his work, but the mural was covered in drapery and left incomplete. Despite protests from art lovers and attempts to get it to moved to the Museum of Modern Art, it remained covered until the early weeks of 1934, when it was destroyed by workmen. The destruction caused widespread controversy. Ralph Stackpole and Bernard Zakheim (who headed a group of artists commissioned by the WPA to paint murals at the Coit Tower in San Francisco) protested, and also included references to the incident in the form of headlines in newspapers held by figures in their paintings. 

Concerned that Rockefeller would destroy the work, Rivera had asked an assistant, Lucienne Bloch, to take photographs of the mural before it was destroyed. Using them as a reference, Rivera repainted the mural, though at a smaller scale, at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City where it was renamed Man, Controller of the Universe. The composition was almost identical, the main difference being that the central figure was moved slightly to be aligned with the supporting mast of the cylindrical telescope above him. 
The new version included a portrait of Leon Trotsky alongside Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels at the right, and others, including Charles Darwin, at the left and Nelson Rockefeller's father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler, seen drinking in a nightclub with a woman; above their heads is a dish of syphilis bacteria. 

E.B. White's Poem dedicated to the Rivera mural controversy "I Paint What I See : A Ballad of Artistic Integrity"
"What do you paint when you paint a wall?"
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson.
"Do you paint just anything there at all?
"Will there be any doves or a tree in fall?
"Or a hunting scene like an English hall?"
"I paint what I see," said Rivera.
"What are the colors you use when you paint?"
Said John D.'s grandson, Nelson.
"Do you use any red in the beard of a saint?
"If you do is it terribly red, or faint?
"Do you use any blue? Is it Prussian?"
"I paint what I paint," said Rivera.
"Whose is that head I see on my wall?"
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson.
"Is it anyone's head whom we know, at all?
"A Rensselaer, or a Saltonstall?
"Is it Franklin D.? Is it Mordaunt Hall?
"Or is it the head of a Russian?"
"I paint what I think," said Rivera.
"I paint what I paint, I paint what I see,
"I paint what I think," said Rivera,
"And the thing that is dearest in life to me
"In a bourgeois hall is Ingegrity;
"I'll take out a couple of people drinkin'
"And put in a picture of Abraham Lincoln,
"I could even give you McCormick's reaper
"And still not make my art much cheaper.
"But the head of Lenin has got to stay
"Or my friends will give me the bird today
"The bird, the bird, forever."
"It's not good taste in a man like me,"
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson,
"To question an artist's integrity
"Or mention a practical thing like a fee,
"But I know what I like to a large degree
"Though art I hate to hamper;
"For twenty-one thousand conservative bucks
"You painted a radical. I say shucks,
"I never could rent the offices.
"For this, as you know, is a public hall
"And people want doves or a tree in fall,
"And though your art I dislike to hamper,
"I owe a little to God and Gramper,
"And after all,
"It's my wall...."
"We'll see if it is," said Rivera.
[First published in The New Yorker, May 20, 1933 during the controversy over Diego Rivera's mural in Rockefeller Center which was destroyed the following year on February 9, 1934.]


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