As most articles these days, most start with how the pandemic has affected different industries. Unsurprisingly, the culture industry is one that has not been spared. In 2020, the San Francisco Art Institute was forced to lay off a couple of dozen employees and was on the brink of permanent closure.
Most institutions are looking for a way to climb their way out of debt, and the SFAI is no exception. Their way of doing so? By selling a 1931 mural by the renowned Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
That has not come without backlash. Pam Rorke Levy, board chairwoman for the New York Times, says the “first choice would be to endow the mural in place, attracting patrons or a partner institution that would create a substantial fund that would enable us to preserve, protect and present the mural to the public.”
The painting in question is called ‘The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City.’ The art displays depict engineers, art assistants, technicians, sculptors, as well as Diego Rivera himself portraying an oversized helmeted worker, this description is according to the SFAI’s website.
The mural is estimated to be worth around $50 million. Because the mural is not directly painted on a wall, the possibility of it being moved is feasible. According to curator Rosa Lowinger, this process could cost between $1.5 and $2 million.
As for people who have expressed interest? The New York Times has said that the filmmaker George Lucas has prodded at the idea of purchasing the highly favored mural and add it to his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is still in the building block stages.
Alumni, faculty, and the San Francisco community have not received this news well. On December 30, the school’s adjunct faculty union penned an open letter to the university criticizing the decision.
“Rather it is an artwork, given by a Mexican artist to a predominately white-serving school, that serves among many things as a focal point for complex and ongoing negotiations between artists and art institutions around issues of race, class, access, and labor” read part of the letter.
On Tuesday, January 12, the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco voted unanimously to begin the process of turning the mural into a landmark. This would block its possible sale, although it would not secure it. However, it would definitely make it more difficult for school officials to sell the piece.
According to the SFAI’s website, the mural “powerfully conflates art and labor—the sheer ‘work’ of creative practice with the individuals who surround, support, and fund a work of art.”
Diego Rivera was a member of the Mexican Communist Party. The landmark mural personifies industrial workers’ significance, deflected by showing characters who were larger than life.
For now, it seems that the mural is safe. Thanks to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the community can rest assured Rivera’s isn’t going anywhere, at least for now.