Crisis Of Patronage

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Crisis of Patronage

Crisis of Patronage

Diego Rivera, widely known for his murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the San Francisco Stock Exchange Luncheon Club, became famous nationally and internationally when his mural for the Radio City of America (RCA) Building at Rockefeller Center in New York City was halted on 9 May 1933, and subsequently destroyed on 10 February 1934. Commissioned at the height of the Depression and on the eve of Hitler's rise to power, Rivera's mural may be read as a response to the world's political and social crises, posing the alternatives for humanity as socialist harmony, represented by Lenin and scenes of celebration from the Soviet state, or capitalist barbarism, depicted through scenes of unemployment, war and "bourgeois decadence" in the form of drinking and gambling, though each side contained ambiguous elements. At the center stood contemporary man, the controller of nature and industrial power, whose choice lay between these two fates.

The portrait of Lenin became the locus of the controversy at a moment when Rivera was disaffected with the policies of Stalin, and the Communist Party (CP) opposition was divided between Leon Trotsky and the international Left Opposition on one side, and the American Right Opposition led by Jay Love stone on the other. In his mural, Rivera presented Lenin as the only historical figure who could clearly symbolize revolutionary political leadership. When he refused to remove the portrait of Lenin and substitute an anonymous face, as Nelson Rockefeller insisted, the painter was summarily dismissed, paid off, and the unfinished mural temporarily covered up, sparking a nationwide furor in both the left and capitalist press. While the art historical literature has largely dealt with the events surrounding the RCA mural in terms of Rivera's relationship to his capitalist patrons, this article considers the political motivations for Rivera's artistic practice in terms of his relationship to the Communist left, a key sector of his audience.' The same year the project was terminated; Rivera took its most controversial motif and expanded it to include the portraits of a dozen revolutionary leaders in a unified stand. This was the culminating panel of a series of twenty-one murals portraying a radical history of America at the New Workers School in New York, run by the Lodestone group. In a show of no sectarianism, Rivera then painted two small panels, now lost, at the Trotskyist headquarters in New York, featuring Trotsky's leading role in the Russian Revolution and the incipient Fourth Internationall.

When the RCA mural was destroyed in 1934, Rivera was granted permission by the Mexican government to recreate it in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, and added several portraits, including that of John D. Rockefeller Jr. to the capitalist side, and Trotsky, Marx, Engels, Lovestone and Bertram Wolfe, with the banner of the Fourth International, to the socialist side, altering the meaning of the original mural. Produced in the context of Stalin's failure to mobilize against the rise of fascism in Germany and Trotsky's call for ...
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