Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art

Special exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art through May 14.

Whenever I see Diego Rivera's distinctive art, my first thought is always to wonder once again why Nelson Rockefeller thought he'd be happy with one of Rivera's murals in Rockefeller Center. Not only were Rivera's socialist beliefs well known (he was a founding member of Mexico's Communist party!), they inform virtually all of his work, so why in the world would the scion of one of the United States' most famous capitalist families expect his own vision of "Man at the Crossroads" (the assigned subject) to be compatible with Rivera's?!*

Rockefeller's naïveté and arrogance become even funnier when you see the murals that brought Rivera to New York in the first place. Because so much of the internationally renowned artist's work was fixed to the site of its creation, the fledgling Museum of Modern Art invited Rivera to create relatively portable murals at the museum itself. When he arrived, he created five frescoes with Mexican subject matter and three directly inspired by his visit to New York, and all of them deal with revolution, laborers, or inequality.

In short, nothing about the murals screams, "I belong in your family's art deco temple of capitalism!"—except, of course, the fact that they're beautiful and striking and bold. And in that the murals exemplify Rivera. His artistry is such that any fair observer would have to recognize it, but that artistry cannot be separated from Rivera's political perspective any more than Bach's St. John Passion can be separated from its liturgical foundation. That impassioned point of view is part of what makes the art so affecting and meaningful in the first place.