Diego Rivera Mural Moving to SFMOMA
By Eleni Balakrishnan
Due to COVID-19-related shutdowns, City College’s famed “Pan American Unity” mural by Diego Rivera will remain on campus until fall, when it will be loaned to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) for an exhibition.
The mural is to reside on the first floor of the museum for three years, in an area open to the general public.
Originally scheduled for October, the “Diego Rivera’s America” exhibition will now open on Nov. 21. However, today’s global health crisis may require further delays.
“Like everything in the world that’s been affected by the pandemic, so too has the mural project,” SFMOMA’s Communications Director Jill Lynch said.
City College alumnus and resident mural expert Will Maynez said a team of Mexican engineers are currently analyzing how best to move the mural. “We were gonna go to Mexico … [but] all that is kind of on hold because they’re sequestered as well,” he said.
Each of the mural’s 10 panels will be transported then installed at the museum one-by-one, a process Lynch said will likely take a few weeks.
“These are not small works of art … When you have something that large on a truck, and that’s also fragile, you want to move it slowly and carefully,” Lynch said.
Rivera painted the 22 by 74 foot mural at the Golden Gate International Exposition, a world fair held on Treasure Island in 1940. The mural’s official title translates from Spanish to “The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent,” and shows elements of Mexican and Indigenous culture alongside U.S. technology.
After the fair, the mural waited in storage for 20 years before finding its permanent home at City College in 1961.
“It’s been wonderful because it does bring visibility to City College that no other community college has,” Latin American and Latino/a Studies Department Chair Edgar Torres said.
“Diego Rivera’s America” will showcase Rivera’s murals and easel paintings between the early 1920s and early 1940s. Rivera was “instrumental not only in forging Mexican national identity, but also in imagining a shared American past and future,” Lynch said.
When the time comes, SFMOMA will fund the mural’s move back to City College campus, where it will enter the long-awaited Performing Arts Education Center (PAEC). Earlier this year, San Francisco voters approved an $845 million facilities bond to renovate the campus and build a new PAEC.
“The plan is to have [the building] ready for the 2023 return of the mural, so [the mural] has a home when it gets back,” Maynez said. He said the new building will be called the Diego Rivera Theatre, and the existing Diego Rivera Theatre will be renamed.
Torres said current plans for the PAEC will have a glass front, making the mural visible from Frida Kahlo Way.
Torres believes the mural “has created a life unto itself, that’s larger than when it was first painted.”
“When I’m in my office in the science hall on weekends … we’re talking about countless times that people come in here looking for the mural: visitors from out of state, sometimes different countries, coming in just to see that mural,” Torres said.
Many City College instructors, especially in the English as a Second Language (ESL) department, integrate the mural into their curriculum, Torres said. When classes resume, he hopes to take his students to SFMOMA to see the mural in person.
San Francisco’s reopening plan hoped to allow indoor museums like SFMOMA to reopen by June 29, but for now this step is still on hold, according to the City and County of San Francisco website.