NEW YORK (Reuters) - Five murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera will go on display on Sunday in a new exhibit that reunites works that struck a chord across a broad social spectrum when they were unveiled during the Great Depression.
The works, which were first shown in 1931 and 1932, are the highlight of “Diego Rivera, Murals for The Museum of Modern Art,” which runs through May 14.
The murals were painted at MOMA, which sold all but one. Museum director Glenn Lowry said the works, particularly “Frozen Assets,” still find resonance today.
“What is interesting about Rivera today is how prescient his observations about New York 80 years ago were,” he said.
“There is no better metaphor for what is taking place with the various Occupy Wall Street movements around the country and the world than the stratification that is revealed in Rivera’s painting, which shows you the homeless juxtaposed with bank vaults and the wealthy,” he said..
Weighing nearly 700 kg (1540 pounds), “Frozen Assets” was flown to New York after being removed from its home at the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City.
The show’s other murals, “Electric Power” and “The Uprising” were also brought for the show from Rivera’s native Mexico and are rejoining the U.S.-held “Agrarian Leader Zapata” and “Indian Warrior.”
“Frozen Assets” depicts the New York skyline above tightly packed ranks of faceless and sleeping homeless men. Underneath is a spacious bank vault. Fashionably-dressed women wait with an elderly man who resembles John D. Rockefeller Jr, according to the show’s curator Leah Dickerman, adding that the craggy profile of the bank clerk brings to mind John D. Rockefeller Sr.
The exhibit traces Rivera’s tumultuous ties with the Rockefeller family, which commissioned him to do a mural “Man at the Crossroads” for Rockefeller Center, which was under construction.
But in 1934 the family ordered the destruction of the work-in-progress after Rivera refused to withdraw an image of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, according to exhibit documents.
Rivera’s relationship with Moscow is illustrated in the exhibit with 45 of his watercolors from his 1927-1928 sojourn in Soviet Union. While he was in Moscow he met and established a relationship with Alfred Barr, who was the first director of MOMA when it opened in 1929.
It was Barr who invited Rivera to paint the murals at MOMA, which was then housed at a different location from its present site.
Of the five exhibited murals, MOMA held on to “Agrarian Leader Zapata,” which shows Mexican insurgent Emiliano Zapata holding the reins of a white horse, which was modeled on an early 15th century painting from the Italian Renaissance.
Reporting by Walker Simon; editing by Patricia Reaney