By Beth Lederer
The spectacular Diego Rivera Pan American Unity Mural is presently on loan at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The mural is a masterpiece and was Rivera’s last mural painted in the United States. This ten panel fresco is his largest contiguous piece.
This great masterpiece is the pride of City College. It was unknown by many in San Francisco that this gem, Pan American Unity Mural, was actually displayed at City College. The mural was displayed in the lobby at The Diego Rivera Theater from 1961 until 2021.
Will Maynez, retired lab manager in the Physics department at City College, is considered the historian and guardian of the mural. Maynez worked diligently for 25 years looking after the mural.
Maynez facilitated an offer to the college from SFMOMA in 2017. It has also been his dream to see the Pan American Unity Mural receive the recognition it so rightfully deserves by having an international audience view it at SFMOMA. Maynez has received national exposure.
The ten panel masterpiece (22’ X 74’) fresco has been well received at the SFMOMA. “A great deal of work over the course of several years went into the conservation, move and presentation of the mural. The mural has been extremely well received by our local, national and international visitors alike. There have been approximately 1550 visitors per day to the Museum,” according to a SFMOMA spokesperson.
The Pan American Unity Mural is located in a huge free space in the Roberts Family Gallery with large clear glass windows reflecting natural light into the museum. Lisa L. who viewed the mural at both sites preferred viewing it at the SFMOMA, “I loved seeing it here because the light is better, it’s less cramped and it’s much easier to appreciate,” she said.
Another aspect she really liked is the beautiful pamphlet which according to Maynez is a City College creation that was reprinted by SFMOMA. The pamphlet is available upon entering. The Diego Rivera Pan American Unity Mural pamphlet explains the symbolism on each panel. Lisa enjoyed following the key and coming up with her own symbolism for each panel.
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved and recommended that the architectural firm, TEF Design, receive the contract to design the performing arts theater, at the Facilities Master Planning and Oversight Committee on Feb. 10 and at the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 24. The eight panel nominating committee narrowed it down to three firms and Chancellor Martin made the final decision.
President of the Board of Trustees Brigitte Davila was enthusiastic and said, “Can’t wait until we can dig up the ground and start on this thing. It’s been a long time coming. Really enjoyed going through the proposal and finally we are on track.”
Associate Vice Chancellor Alberto Vasquez said, “In a few months they will need to identify a builder.”
When asked for public comment, Chair of the Music Department Madeline Mueller said, ”Let’s just get this going. It was really important to get the mural back in the public eye and back to campus as soon as possible.”
Another public comment came from Harry Bernstein who looked at the financial aspect of the cost of storage. He commented, “One of the problems has been the long delay which has caused the rise of cost.” He wanted to find out “if there has been a more reliable estimate of the cost for storing the mural. He heard variable prices ranging from $30,000-$50,000 per month.”
Additionally Bernstein heard that Dr. Martin was going to speak to SFMOMA to see if City College can receive an extension on the return date of the mural.
Bernstein further added that “construction wouldn’t begin until 2025.”
There was also discussion about the name of the theater. Diego Rivera Theater could be changed to make it more descriptive. People then would know it is a performance and educational center, though some Trustees stated Diego Rivera should stay in the name of the theater in some part.
The return date of the Pan American Unity Mural is currently being discussed and finalized. “There is no confirmed date at the moment, ” according to a SFMOMA spokesperson. The SFMOMA is also getting ready for its new exhibit featuring Diego Rivera called Diego Rivera’s America (July 16, 2022- January 2, 2023). The SFMOMA spokesperson said, “They will encourage visitors to view Pan American Unity after they viewed the exhibition for a final look at the spectacular creativity and powerful storytelling ability that is Rivera.”
For Maynez the biggest issue is “the fact the mural has to go into storage for years after international exposure.”