Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: Diego Rivera Murals at MoMA

By , Columnist

New York. I can only drink champagne nowadays. My analyst says it’s ancient Scottish grandeur coming to the fore.  No such thing. It simply tastes good. But it has to be Krug. (Haven’t touched Krystal since Louis Roederer changed the spelling).

In the studio I drink it from a chilled pewter tankard just as my grandfather did. Elitist? I’ll drink to that. I mention this because Wednesday, was a Done It and Dusted Day. Brushes washed.  Smock off. Phone back on the hook. Krug cork eased out with a whisper - not a vulgar pop.  In other words, I’ve finished the Antigua commission. Five good size canvasses - 15ft by 8 ft. Big, brilliant Caribbean colours. Love it.

So, another lady-like slurp and I’m into does size matter and wondering at the murals of Diego Rivera about to show at the Museum of Modern Art. November 13 to May 14 next.  This is going to be a memorable moment at MoMA. For the first time in eight decades, it gets together five of the eight “portable murals” Rivera created exclusively for his 1931 MoMA exhibition and, they’ve never again be brought together until now.

Rivera agrarian leader zapata.jpg

They’re really freestanding frescoes. Big. Bold images eighty years ago that are so relevant today. Why? Because these are heady subjects of the late Twenties and Early Thirties when America really did have more to fear than fear itself. These murals were debating the role of public art during the seemingly hopeless state of Wall Street’s economic crash, the cruel consequences of the Depression and, to show that the troubles did not come alone, the Mexican Revolution.

All this executed in the artist’s uncompromisingly style that does not allow you to look away from his most harrowing images including the wretched vision man’s most spiteful execution of power over another - corporal punishment

The murals, 6ft by 8ft weigh in at around 1,000 pounds. They’re in frescoed plaster, concrete and steel.  Go see. You’ll not be able to escape them. That goes too for three of his eight-foot working drawings, smaller drawings prints and watercolours. Because the surface of a fresco panel dries quickly, Rivera used full-scale cartoons to develop compositions (something I learned from him) before applying pigment to the wet plaster which he would then transfer or replicate onto the murals surface.

Diego Rivera worked famously on the Rockefeller Centre project.  It didn’t last and they showed him the door. Why? Probably Lenin. Diego wanted to exhibit a portrait of Lenin. Lenin was dead by then, but his image represented everything that FDR’s America was not. It has to go said the Rockefeller Centre.  It has to stay said Diego. Either it goes or you… Diego went. Art is truth, but sometimes that’s a complex debate, especially when they’re jumping, even apocryphally, from the windows of economically besieged Wall Street.  

So back to the pewter and the thought that MoMA’s backed its reputation with this show on its many levels - political, historical and artistically.  My Number One Fan calls to say he’s found a Clos du Mesnil. He must have paid a year’s salary. But why not? Grandfather would have approved.

Thinking of ancient grandeur (really must get a more imaginative analyst - someone who doesn’t tell me what he thinks I want to hear). Next week I’ll reveal why the experts love my royal portrait, but really wanted to know how long it took me to perfect my curtsey.

ArtScene Quote of the Week

Only the work of art itself can raise the standard of taste. Diego Rivera

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments areā€¦

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