By Matthew Gomez
Diego Rivera’s “Pan American Unity,” a mural he painted specially for City College, might find a new home in the next few years as its current location doesn’t fulfill Rivera’s vision.
The mural, completed Nov. 13, 1940, has been housed in the Diego Rivera Theatre since the early 1960’s. The mural was intended to be placed in City College’s first library but the architect, Timothy Pfleuger, died before it could be built.
Its current location is not considered optimal for viewing the mural, which stretches to almost 74 feet wide. Rivera envisioned the mural being housed in a building with a glass facade, so that viewers could step back and see the mural all at once, said William Maynez, a mural historian at City College.
“We’re investigating the idea of moving the mural to a better site on campus,” Maynez said. “It’s kind of like if you had the Mona Lisa and you kept it in the closet.”
At the same time, Mexico’s Consul General Ambassador Carlos Felix and City College Chancellor Don Griffin signed a memorandum of understanding that ensures they will work together to promote the academic and cultural qualities of the mural.
The Friends of the Diego Rivera Murals, a group committed to protecting the mural, is using private donations to hire a team of art experts who will determine if the mural be can safely moved to another location on campus.
The team consists of a fine arts transporter, a structural engineer and an art conservator, who will work together to find the safest way to demount, transport and reinstall the mural. The three experts will have to agree on the transportation method. An idea posed by the engineer might make sense from an engineering perspective, while the art conservator sees that it would damage the plaster of the mural.
Maynez likened the process to the checks and balances system that makes up the three branches of government.
Rivera painted the mural on Treasure Island at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1940, said Karina Lopez, who gives free tours of the mural. Lopez said that on an average day, 45 people take the tour.
The mural was painted in four months. It is a fresco, which means it was painted on plaster with water-based pigments. The pigments bind with the plaster as it dries.
The center of the mural is a melding of the Coatlicue – the Goddess of earth, life and death – with a stamping machine from the Detroit Motor Company. At the time, Rivera saw a need for the industrialization of the United States to merge with the cultural qualities of the Mexican people.
A more controversial aspect of the mural is the depiction of Joseph Stalin holding a bloody ice axe, which alludes to Stalin’s involvement in the assassination of Leon Trotsky, a Russian revolutionary. Trotsky was killed with an ice axe Aug. 20, 1940, at the same time Rivera, a communist, was working on the mural.
“He would say what he wanted to say,” Lopez said.
She said many students also visit the mural during finals, when they have to write papers for classes as varied as history, English, humanities and art. She’s even heard of professors from UC Davis, Humboldt State and UCLA bringing their students to witness and learn about the mural in person.
Lopez hopes to continue giving tours of the mural to willing patrons. “It is a great honor to have this on campus,” she said.