DIEGO RIVERA: A Life in Review

The Museum of Modern Art pays tribute to Diego Rivera, by unveiling his “1931” exhibition for the first time in nearly 80 years.

Words: Marjua Estevez
Images: Diego Rivera, courtesy of MOMA

At his best, Diego Rivera was a beautiful human being. We can point out all of his shortcomings and debate miscellaneous character flaws like his unfaithfulness to Frida Kahlo (who also wasn’t a saint) and his staunch political views, which have been the subject of relentless questioning (he was a lifelong Marxist). But truth be told, Rivera epitomized a tireless human strength sparked by intuitiveness, which made very clear that at any moment, he would answer the call of duty by putting down his brush and going to war with the oppressor (in whatever form the oppressive force appeared). One can even assume that, that’s Rivera’s definition of being a true artist, being completely and honestly human.

Considered to be one of the greatest Mexican artists of the 20th Century, Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico in 1886, where he began studying painting very early before moving to Europe in 1907. During his 14-year tenure living in Paris, he encountered the works of master artists Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir and Matisse. He began searching for a new form of painting, his own voice—one that would express the struggles of his day, while reaching others who felt as he did. It was the frescoes of Italy—mural paintings done on fresh plaster and fixed on a single site— that inspired him most, a Renaissance form that he learned to master within the public art realm, back in his native country upon his return.

Rivera’s central concern and what his art most notoriously conveyed, may be easily perceived as the physical process of human development and the effects of technological progress on said growth. Grappling with such massive themes within humanity’s complex history, it should come as no surprise that Rivera took to public spaces to articulate his inner thoughts through art. He saw his medium as a weapon (even on gallery walls and the museums of the elite) and an opportunity to work on behalf of the workers’ struggle—those most affected by the political grounds on which capitalism walked.

Despite wreaking havoc on the political realm of, not only Mexico, but also the US, in December of 1931, the Museum of Modern Art installed a major exhibition of work by Rivera, which broke attendance records at the museum. Today, in celebration of Rivera’s accomplishments and in memoriam of the magnanimous Mexican Renaissance Muralist, MoMA is presenting Rivera’s 1931 exhibit once again for the first time in nearly 80 years. Juxtaposed with eight mural panels, the show will include full-scale drawings, and also smaller sketches and archival materials of these works, such as Diego’s infamous mural, “Man at the Crossroads” (of workers marching with red banners, featuring a clear depiction of Vladimir Lenin leading the demonstration), erected at Rockefeller Center. Titled Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art, the exhibit opened November 13, 2011 and will be on view until May 14, 2012.

For more information on Diego Rivera’s work and MOMA’s exhibit, visit, HERE

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