Diego Rivera’s epic fresco adorns SFOMA


Diego Rivera’s epic 1940 fresco “Pan American Unity” was installed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and is free for visitors to view.

Featured in SFMOMA’s Roberts Family Gallery, the mural, officially titled “The Marriage of North and South Artistic Expression on this Continent,” is on loan from the City College of San Francisco, where it was exhibited. since 1961.

Panels of the fragile work of art were recently transported carefully to the museum (at 4 a.m. on several Sunday mornings at a speed of five miles per hour).

Measuring 22 by 74 feet and weighing over 60,000 pounds, the monumental public artwork was painted by Rivera as part of the “Art in Action” project at the Golden Gate International Exhibition on Treasure Island. of San Francisco.

Workers roll into a massive “Pan American Unity” sign in the gallery. (Courtesy Katherine Du Tiel / SFMOMA)

Rivera participated at the invitation of architect Timothy Pflueger. Expo attendees were able to observe the Mexican artist and his assistants as they created the mural (the long-established art form is painting over wet plaster). But rather than painting on a wall, Rivera produced a portable work of art made up of movable steel-framed panels.

The theme of the mural is the achievement of the unity between the South and the North by combining the traditional arts of Mexico with the mechanics and modern technologies of the United States.

Rivera envisioned a thriving collaborative relationship between the two locations in the Western Hemisphere at a time when Europe was mired in Nazism, fascism and war.

The 10 panels in the painting – four are stand-alone scenes and the others are narratives that cross the boundaries of the panels – suggest a journey through time, rendered in the familiar Rivera style, which reflects European and Mexican influences and includes nods to surrealism.

A large top panel of ??  Pan American unit ??  is housed in the Roberts Family Gallery of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  (Courtesy Katherine Du Tiel / SFMOMA)

A large top panel of “Pan American Unity” is installed in the Roberts Family Gallery of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Courtesy Katherine Du Tiel / SFMOMA)

The left panels feature scenes of ancient and pre-Renaissance indigenous activities: metalworking, dancing, music, and the deity Quetzalcoatl teaching the council of rulers. Volcanoes and temples occupy the background.

A panorama of the Bay Area atop the mural contains bridges, ships, aquatic waters, and Alcatraz and Treasure Islands.

At the center is towering imagery in which Rivera merges pre-colonial Mesoamerica with modern-day America by merging the Aztec land goddess Coatlicue with a large, sophisticated machine.

Nearby and elsewhere, Rivera has painted dozens of historical and contemporary figures. There are the American presidents, the Latin American revolutionaries and dictators Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin (Rivera, a communist, had bitter against the Soviet leader).

We also meet actors who have acted in anti-fascist films, including Charlie Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson. (Rivera likened the films to murals in their ability to convey social messages.)

Signs on the right highlight industry and innovation and include inventors, such as Thomas Edison and Samuel Morse, appearing with their claims to fame.

A closer look at the image (there’s a lot to look at!) Reveals the presence of architects, scientists, athletes (diver Helen Crlenkovich, seemingly aiming for the stratosphere, captive) and artists. These include Rivera himself and his fellow Mexican artist (and Rivera’s wife) Frida Kahlo. The couple’s dog, an Aztec breed, is on another panel.

The moving team prepares a steel support for the lower central panel of the mural.  (Courtesy Katherine Du Tiel / SFMOMA)

The moving team prepares a steel support for the central lower panel of the mural. (Courtesy Katherine Du Tiel / SFMOMA)

After its time at SFMOMA, “Pan American Unity” in 2023 will return to City College, where it will be exhibited in the new performing arts center on campus.

SFMOMA organizes special programs in conjunction with the wall display. Visitors to the museum can also look forward to SFMOMA’s next exhibition, “Diego Rivera’s America,” which opens next year.


Pan American Unity

Or: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF; Entrance to the Roberts Family Gallery on Howard Street

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Friday-Sunday; 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays; fence 2023

Admission: Release

Contact: (415) 357-4000, sfmoma.org

Museums and GalleriesSan FranciscoVisual Arts

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