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a pictorial history of mexico

I’ve never been particularly into Diego Rivera so I didn’t get around to seeing his famous murals during my first sojourn in Mexico City. However, glowing reviews from my erstwhile cycling companions, Jeff and Jason, who I caught up with briefly in Puebla, prompted me to make the effort when I returned to the DF before my ascent of Iztaccihuatl.

And I have to say I am extremely glad I was shamed into it because some artwork simply doesn’t reproduce well and Rivera’s murals are prime examples of this phenomenon. In the flesh, the images are pretty incredible and what it is even more amazing is, given how politically uncompromising and contentious they are, that they have survived this long in a political scene where the dominant forces have seldom leaned far to the Left.

The murals at the Palacio Nacional are the ones that get the most tourist traffic. The giant mural on the main staircase depicts the entire history of Mexico – according to Rivera’s very partial view. A god-like Marx shows the way forward to a bright and shining socialist future while below various scenes of violence, exploitation and depravity take place in sad reality.

A god-like Marx, showing the down trodden the way forward.

The conquest...

...was clearly a brutal...

... and tragic affair.

Various scenes of idealistic pre-Colombian grandeur grace the walls of the first floor balcony.

Visions of pre-Colombian grandeur, on the other hand, steer well clear of bloody human sacrifices.

The murals at the Palacio Nacional are the most visited and famous but now that I have decided to do Diego Rivera I am determined to go the whole way and so I also visit the Secrectaria de Educacion Publica. This building also houses extensive murals by Rivera which again reflect his intense political views as well as containing many personal references. Frida Kahlo and many of his friends and other lovers, as well as his enemies, are all featured prominently in the works.

Admission to this building proves slightly more complicated than to the Palacio Nacional. My entry and intentions are recorded in a book at the entrance and I am directed to wait, with a French couple who have coincidentally also arrived at the same moment to see the murals, for a security guard to accompany us into the interior of the building. The guard takes us to the office of woman who, after a shaky start, in which she very tersely informs the guard that we should have an appointment before retiring to her office to don a jacket and touch up her make-up, gives us a remarkable tour of the building and an impassioned commentary on each mural panel.

Frida as a communist youth.

A critic that offended Rivera is depicted with donkey ears and a pink shirt, outing him as gay.

Rivera’s politics are not necessarily shared by the current guard at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica and this is evidenced by the strategic placement of large potted plants in front of many of the works. Our guide informs us that people who work in the building spit at the paintings and stick chewing gum on them and commit various other acts of petty vandalism.

An entire panel is devoted to an unflattering portrait of the Rockefeller family. Rockefeller earned Rivera’s ire after the fiasco at the Rockefeller Centre in which Rivera was commissioned by Rockefeller to paint a mural but Lenin’s prominent presence in the work resulted in the destruction and removal of the piece.

The Rockefellers at dinner, obscured by a strategic potted plant.

The image glimpsed from the side.

A complete view of the art work and the artfully placed greenery.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. zanny | May 15, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I am so jealous, I would have loved to see these in person.
    I cant believe that they are kept in a place were they can be vandalized like that. But the strategic plants are a genius idea – I must remember that in my own gallery when we have a work I don’t like ;)

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