San Francisco

Diego Rivera

Rivera began his artistic career in Mexico at a time when an anemic 19th-century academic school of art was the art in Mexico. Between 1907 and 1909 and again between 1912 and 1921 Rivera lived in Europe where he was closely associated with the cubist masters––Picasso in particular––and an avid student of the works in the Louvre. In 1921 Rivera returned to North America loaded with the new bag­gage from the old world. Among the trappings was a promised new way of life for the downtrodden Indian masses; Rivera returned a Marxist. He quickly made the decision that what Mexico needed was a colloquial art which would aid the cause of social revolution and be easily decipherable for all the people, educated or not. While bringing this con­cept into reality Rivera resolved that the new forms which he had seen and used in his paintings in Europe (cubism, con­structivism and suprematism), were ex­pendable for the purpose of furthering the social revolution in Mexico.

Once he had determined to jump out of the mainstream of what was truly vital and modern in painting at that time, the rest was easy. He swiftly be­came the propagandistic decorator of all the Americas. Hundreds upon hun­dreds of square yards of workers vali­antly facing their bloated oppressors, political, clerical, capitalistic money-­manipulators. Now, thirty years later, Rivera’s images are as obsolete as the political cartoons of the depression era. Strong political views have been ex­pressed by artists in their paintings for centuries. Some of these paintings are as forceful and pertinent in our time as they were long ago; witness Goya’s Horrors of War. One of the important differences between valid and invalid protest painting would seem to be that if the message carried by the painting outstrips the visual-esthetic qualities the pictures will be relevant as propaganda, humor or showmanship but not as lasting objects of art.

The drawings on exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art are, for the most part, preliminary sketches for Ri­vera’s mural at the San Francisco Stock Exchange.

James Monte