Diego Rivera captivated the art world and inspired an international fresco revival with his wildly colorful, emotive paintings and murals. Working on a grand scale—on walls that sometimes measured as high as 22 feet and as wide as 74—Rivera championed the history, plight, and beauty of the Mexican working class and crafted a vision of his homeland in a way that recalled and rivaled the complexity of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Now, visitors to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will get the chance to get up close and personal with some of the artist’s most famous creations.
On July 16, SFMOMA will begin celebrating the Mexican muralist’s legacy with Diego Rivera’s America, an exhibition comprising 150 drawings and paintings created between the 1920s and the mid-1940s, a time when Rivera was producing his best and most iconic work. Additionally, three galleries will be dedicated to large-scale film projections of some of Rivera’s most well-known murals. The crown jewel of the exhibition, however, will be The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on the Continent also known more simply as Pan American Unity (1940). While the rest of the exhibition requires a paid ticket, the 10-panel mural (which is on loan from the City College of San Francisco) will be free for all to view in the Roberts Family Gallery. It’s not only the last mural Rivera made in the United States but also his largest work that is portable—it was painted on cement panels rather than directly on to a wall. After a seven-month run, the exhibit will wrap things up on January 2, 2023.
Though Diego Rivera’s America promises to wow guests with some of the painter’s most heralded works, there will also be a few surprises. The exhibit will feature never-before-exhibited paintings by Rivera that were thought to be lost, including a double portrait commissioned in 1941 by socialite Frances Ford Seymour, the mother of Jane and Peter Fonda. Visitors will also be able to see Rivera’s alternative versions of some of his most popular paintings, including Flower Seller (1926), as well as recreations of costumes he designed for the avant-garde ballet H.P. (Horsepower).
During the 20 years of Rivera’s heyday, he grappled with some big ideological questions that all but completely consumed his work. What does it mean to be Mexican and how can that be gracefully depicted in art? How could he best portray real Mexican culture, the Mexico of the working class? And, since Rivera was spending increasingly more time in the United States, what does it mean to have a transnational identity? Some of his answers to those questions can be found within the artworks of the exhibit with paintings like The Corn Grinder (1926) and Pan American Unity.
It’s especially fitting that this exhibition is taking place in San Francisco—it was the first place Rivera painted murals in the United States, and it’s the city where he chose to marry Frida Kahlo a second time, reuniting after a famously nasty divorce.
Admission to SFMOMA begins at $25 for adults. Diego Rivera’s America does require an extra surcharge of $10 on weekdays, and $12 on weekends. Children and young adults under the age of 18 can enjoy free admission to both the museum and its special exhibitions.