'Pan American Unity' Mural Center Of Forthcoming Exhibit

Diego Rivera's colossal fresco, on loan from City College, will be front and center in a new exhibit at SFMOMA later this year.

'Pan American Unity' Mural Center Of Forthcoming Exhibit
Diego Rivera's "Pan American Unity" at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Kaman Liang/Ingleside Light
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July 12 Update: The exhibit, which opens this weekend, prominently features "Pan American Unity," the enormous mural that will return to Ingleside in City College of San Francisco's new theater building in a few year's time.

Few people know that some of the most important art of the 20th Century was created in San Francisco and is kept in Ingleside. Legendary muralist Diego Rivera’s colossal fresco has its home on the main campus of City College of San Francisco on Ocean Avenue.

Currently on loan to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the work will be the centerpiece for a six-month long exhibit.

Beginning this summer from July 16, 2022, and continuing until Jan. 2, 2023, SFMOMA will be hosting an exhibit entitled ‘Diego Rivera’s America.’  It brings together more than 150 of Rivera’s paintings, frescos and drawings. Included will be three galleries devoted to large-scale film projections of his most highly influential murals, created in Mexico and the U.S. Among them will be the mural commonly know as Pan-American Unity.

Rivera traveled the world creating art, all the while living an intense romance with his wife, surrealist Frida Kahlo, whose name now graces a street in Ingleside.

They came to the city twice. first in 1930 and then again in 1940, creating works of art that can still be seen in the city today.

To understand his impact, especially at the time of the Great Depression and then just before World War II, CCSF librarians will also point to archival information.

Even though Rivera had been invited by both William Gerstle, president of the San Francisco Art Institute, and architect Timothy Pflueger, to paint murals, Rivera faced criticism and opposition.

There were some who feared Rivera’s Socialist leanings and thought he shouldn’t be painting his ideal-logical vision for a capitalist country. While Rivera was initially critical of capitalism he denied he was a communist.

Born in Mexico in 1886, Rivera’s life as an artist was expansive. A contemporary of Picasso, Rivera’s art and skills went through many transitions.

As he studied many different techniques and forms of painting Rivera traveled extensively. According to art historians, it was the experience of the Mexican Revolution that transformed Rivera’s art.

Incorporating what he learned, Rivera was determined to express a Mexican identity in his work. Yet when he visited the United States and then San Francisco, he expressed what he saw and felt.

His mural of Pan-American Unity has a special place on the main Ocean Avenue campus. Librarians at CCSF point out there are several large binders at the CCSF Rosenberg Library containing frequently asked questions and information about the mural and Rivera.

“Rivera was one of the most aesthetically, socially & politically ambitious artists of the 20th century,” notes guest curator James Oles for the exhibit. “He was deeply concerned with transforming society and shaping identity — Mexican identity, of course. But also American identity, says Oles, in the broadest sense of the term. Because of Rivera’s utopian belief in the power of art to change the world, he is an essential artist to explore anew today, from a contemporary perspective.”

Diego Rivera’s America’ builds on SFMOMA’s collection of over 70 works by Rivera, one of the largest in the world. It also features paintings, drawings and frescos borrowed from public and private collections in Mexico, the U.S. and the U.K., reuniting many for the first time since the artist’s death. Iconic and much-loved works, such as The Corn Grinder (1926), Dance in Tehuantepec (1928), Flower Carrier (1935) and Portrait of Lupe Marin (1938), will be shown alongside paintings that have not been seen publicly since leaving the artist’s studio.

Rivera cemented an interest in allegory, popular culture, family, labor, and the proletarian revolution, themes that would be central to his famous murals in San Francisco, Detroit and New York of the early 1930s, and that would resonate in his paintings and drawings through the 1940s.

Commonly known as Pan American Unity, this was Rivera’s last mural, measuring 22 feet high by 74 feet wide. It was painted for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1940.

On loan from CCSF for the SFMOMA exhibit, the portable fresco, explores his vision of a shared history and future for Mexico and the U.S.

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