Group works to save large Diego Rivera mural

July 29, 2011 8:16:12 PM PDT
Diego Rivera was a major 20th Century artist, best known for his large murals; four of them are here in the Bay Area. Now there are plans in the work to move one of them, since it's been without a proper home since 1940.

It is Diego Rivera's largest standing mural, crammed inside the small performing arts theater at City College. It was never intended to live there. In 1940, the plan was to build a library big enough to house the mural, but then came World War II.

"The war started you couldn't get concrete, you couldn't get steel and so finally when City College did put up a library, it was a multi-use place, there was more need for classrooms so there wasn't anything large enough. You know, this is 22 feet high by 74 feet long so it takes up a little bit of wall space," said Will Maynez, with the Diego Rivera Mural Project.

That's nearly as long as a tennis court.

In 1940 the president of City College and well-known architect, Timothy Pflueger convinced Rivera to come to San Francisco to participate in the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. It took Rivera only four months to complete the fresco known today as the Pan American Unity Mural.

"What he was paid was $1,000 a month for living expenses and $1,000 for travel, but the mural itself is his gift to City College," said Maynez.

The mural is a fusion between the great, past contributions of Latin America and later, North America's technological innovations.

A panorama of the city covers a significant portion of the mural. His ex-wife, artist Frida Kahlo is prominently shown even though Rivera is behind her holding another woman's hand. Despite the brief love affair, Kahlo and river later remarried at San Francisco's City Hall.

For more than 20 years, this 10-panel mural was stored in crates until it was installed in the small theater. As a result very little is known about it.

"Nobody had been able to get in here to study it and therefore nobody had ever written anything about it," said Julia Bergman from the Diego Rivera Mural Project.

Julia Bergman and Maynez are working on a relocation proposal. The organization called The Diego Rivera Mural Project got the attention of the Mexican Government. A few weeks ago a panel of experts arrived to examine the mural and see how it could be transferred.

"The mural itself, the fresco, has to be protected so that during the movement, it doesn't get damaged and that's what the Mexican experts are experts on," said Marimar Suarez, a cultural attach?.

Each panel is already securely fastened to steel frames. While talks are underway to move the mural, the place that would house it has yet to be built. There is a new building proposed to go in at City College and the mural would be on a large display there.

Bergman and Maynez reached out to philanthropist Nylda Gemple. She and her husband Herb, put together a committee called "The Friends Of Diego Rivera Murals."

"We want to make sure the money is coming from "Friends of Diego," that it will not interfere money that has to do with other programs or education, no this is outside money that we want to provide the college to be able to do this," said Gemple.

They will have to rely on deep pockets and donations from the public.

There are three other Rivera murals in the Bay Area, one at San Francisco's City Club, a second at the Art Institute and another at UC Berkeley. Many believe the mural at City College should have a home worthy of its stature.

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