December 8, 2019

Diego Litho

Self-Portrait Lithograph, 1930 (age 44 years)

Dear Friends of Diego,

Happy 133rd Birthday, Diego! This is how Diego looked on his first visit to San Francisco. Today is also my late Rivera partner Julia Bergman’s birthday. That Julia and Diego should share a birthday was among the synchronicities we never questioned. We were destined for this work. (We have a signed copy of this 1930 Self-Portrait lithograph, a gift to our collection from the late Lynn Wagner, the little girl painting, while seated on the floor in Panel 4.  She was the daughter of Rivera’s assistant Mona Hofmann, the blond woman seated at the table in Panel 2, to whom Diego gave the lithograph.)

SFMOMA will celebrate his 134th birthday with the  Diego Rivera’s America exhibition of 160 objects and one giant mural, scheduled to open October 24, 2020. The mural work for the exhibition has many facets. The conservation work done this summer included local and graduate foreign conservation interns assisting our master conservators. The Italian interns mapped the individual giornata (one day’s fresco work) and we saw that the giornata featuring Paulette Goddard in Panel 3 appeared completely surrounded by older work. Apparently, Diego was waiting for Paulette to arrive to “model” for him, though having worked on her stand-alone portrait in Mexico in May 1940, he could have done her from memory. Paulette came to San Francisco to appear in the San Francisco Examiner’s Ski Show at the Civic Auditorium on November 13, the date on his Panel 4 signature. Diego was in the home stretch painting to the right on the bottom level. On November 15, two weeks before the “finished” mural was unveiled, Paulette showed up to model. Other than the two giornata with painted dates, this may be the only giornata for which we have an exact date! (It occurred to me that I already had enough information to realize this, but my “lightbulb didn’t go on” until the giornata were mapped.)

Scholar Adriana Zavala, who is writing two essays for the Rivera show catalog, visited the mural.

This past week we had a meeting to assimilate new engineering data and further refine the moving strategy. Further work will follow in México in January.

Artist Rina Lazo has passed away and with her another of the direct connections to Diego and Frida. Her murals in the Museo de Antropologia are favorites and,  in a brush with history, she was present at two events we attended in México.

Recently Frida’s Portrait of a Lady in White sold at a Christie’s auction for $5.8M, the second highest price for her work. Of interest was the conjecture over when and where it was painted. One article speculated that it was done in San Francisco in 1930. Since Frida and Diego didn’t arrive in San Francisco until November 10, the window to paint it is rather small. An Artnet article speculated on the subject: “Experts still debate whether the portrait’s subject is an ex-lover, a friend, or a former classmate.” Further, “Others speculate that the woman might be a relative or friend of Ralph Stackpole, a sculptor who lived with Kahlo and Rivera in San Francisco.” Though Diego and Frieda stayed at 716 Montgomery, Stackpole’s indoor studio, (adjacent to his outdoor sculpture yard, now the Villa Taverna), he did not live with them. We do know Frieda painted a Portrait of Jean Wight (dated January 1931) and her famous wedding portrait (dated April 1931) during her 6 month stay.

Frida painting Jean Wight

Diego painted his Lady in White in 1939 and that was Mona Hofmann’s costume for the September 1940  Art in Action “come as a painting” party.

Art in Action Costume Party

San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Ansel Adams, Mona Hofmann as the “Lady in White, Rivera as himself, and Timothy Pflueger as “Rivera.”

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving will be coming to the DeYoung from March 21-July 26, 2020. This show has been on a tour which originated at the Casa Azul in 2012.

Over the years, we have had a fruitful relationship with the DeYoung and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF).

At the museum’s request in 1999 (in another brush with history) we showed the mural to artist Elizabeth Catlett and her husband, artist Francisco Mora. She graciously invited my wife and me to the private dedication ceremony of her sculpture at the Legion of Honor.

FAMSF Director Harry Parker III went down to Veracruz in 2004 to borrow an Olmec head for the opening of the new DeYoung Museum and brokered an additional deal. City College received a gift from the state of Veracruz; a 14 ton, 9 foot high replica of El Rey, San Lorenzo #1. From the nearby Frida Garden its fierce countenance protects our Diego Rivera mural.  During the dedication ceremony Governor Miguel Alemán Velasco pointed out that in 1906 it had been Governor Dehesa of Veracruz who gave Diego his first scholarship to study in Paris.

In 2008 the museum invited me and my dear friend, biographer Adriana Williams, to do talks in conjunction with Miguel Covarrubias’ Flora and Fauna map.

(These maps, another legacy from the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition, deserve a respectful, permanent home. Adriana recently recorded a podcast as part of the Brava for Women in the Arts’  Indómitas series.)

We are exploring the possibility of Jean Franco and me performing the one-act, An Interview with Frida, at the DeYoung in the spring.

Frida Interview performance

The white-washed Frederick Olmsted mural at the San Francisco Art Institute is re-appearing as the paint covering it is meticulously removed by conservators Molly Lambert and Samantha Emmanuel. As The Art Newspaper says: “The conservation project contrasts with a decision to cover up a controversial 1930s school mural in the same city.”

Christie’s auction house recently did a blurb on Francisco Toledo.

The Noguchi-Hasegawa exhibit, which closes today at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, was a wonderful treat for the human soul. In post-WWII Japan the two artists “sought to balance tradition and modernity, Japanese culture and foreign influences, past and present.” Isamu Noguchi worked with Rivera in Mexico during the time George Gershwin came to visit in 1935. Noguchi had done a bust of Gershwin in 1929. (This year’s Gershwin prize will go to country music’s Garth Brooks. ) Isamu had an encounter with Frieda, before she was Frida. With the ascendency of Hitler, she dropped the “e” from her name, so it wouldn’t look so German.

Coming in September 2020 there will be a London Mural Festival.

Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection is on view at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh until January 19, 2020.

Lastly, here is a link to a video of my SFMOMA talk at JR’s mural last August.

Abrazos y Feliz Año Nuevo,