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Moving Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity Mural

Moving Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity Mural

My fellow México Solidarity Project activist Bill Gallegos recently “howled” in this Reflections space after learning that Argentine billionaire Eduardo Constantini had just bought up Frida Kahlo's Diego y Yo. Bill called “seeing her art consumed as the latest bauble in a billionaire art collection” another disgusting “sad sign of a decaying capitalism that transforms everything it can into lifeless commodities.”

So I had mixed feelings about going to see Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I was afraid the move of this mural from San Francisco City College — the original site that Diego painted it for — to the pricey, upscale SF MOMA would feel like a betrayal.

This issue of who cares for and who gets to view works of art has come up before, with, for example, the move of Faith Ringgold’s Riker’s Island piece to the Brooklyn Museum and the relocation of the Fearless Girl statue outside of the New York Stock Exchange.

So I found myself gobsmacked when I turned a corner to go to see the mural and there it was, Diego’s huge, gorgeous, moving tribute to the workers and people of both México and the United States, in a light-filled room with a dramatic staircase leading down to it.


Unfortunately, SF MOMA chose to highlight the work’s bathing beauty as the image to represent the mural as a whole, a real betrayal of the overall work.


Still, let’s not trivialize this monumental achievement. City College had to move the mural, temporarily, as part of a renovation project, and I’m grateful the college didn’t have the mural warehoused, that they have made it available to the public instead.

But mostly I’m grateful to Diego for painting this work. The mural, he said in 1940, “is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent.” To create “a real American art,” he went on, “this blending of the art of the Indian, the Mexican, the Eskimo” with the urge that “makes the machine, the invention in the material side of life” will be necessary. We need to see that inventive urge as artistic as well, “the same urge primarily but in a different form of expression.”


Activist Vicky Hamlin is a retired tradeswoman,
shop steward, and painter. In her painting and
in this column, she shines the light on the lives
of working people and the world they live in.