“Friends of Diego” Newsletter

July 6, 2020: Happy Birthday, Frida!

Yin-Yang symbol in Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central [Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Central Alameda], (1947), Diego Rivera, © Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Dear Friends of Diego,

Diego and Frida subscribed to the concept of Dualidades (dualities), the necessity of the Other. There are numerous examples in their oeuvres, including an overt depiction of the Yin-Yang symbol. An apt metaphor is that Frida and Diego were Binary stars coupled by a profound gravity, which compelled them to revolve around each other as they etched a trajectory across their cosmos. Their forces of attraction were equal and opposite. Clearly, the forces binding them exceeded the forces threatening to spiral them off in disparate directions.  They were each other’s Other. Most people of color have experienced being identified as the “Other”, but not in the sense of being a complementary part of an integrated whole. Black Lives Matter is the latest reaction to this experience. Now, it does seem like more people are listening. Have we finally reached a critical mass to make the movement sustainable? The colorful sidewalk messages in chalk and the hand-drawn signs in the windows give me hope.

As James Oles, curator of SFMOMA’s upcoming Diego Rivera’s America, is getting ready to celebrate the prodigious output of the Mexican artist; here in San Francisco the next controversy over the life of a New Deal era fresco has sprung up. Bernard Zakheim’s History of Medicine in California at UCSF’s Parnassus Campus is being threatened with demolition, though not from its content as is the case with Victor Arnautoff’s Washington High School murals. In the case of Zakheim’s murals, it has to do with their being an impediment to construction and with the perceived cost to relocate them. Hopefully, a mutually beneficial solution can be negotiated. Professor Oles recently appeared in a Town Hall webcast, which focused on the destruction in 1934 of Diego Rivera’s  Man at the Crossroads at the brand new Rockefeller Center. (Ironically, because of the foot traffic in what is now the main lobby of “30 Rock”,  30 Rockefeller Plaza, this would have been his best-known work.) A largely unresolved question is why that mural  wasn’t saved, though there existed the technology and a viable alternative venue?

During the webcast, it occurred to me that it was Diego who was the Man at the Crossroads. His stance in refusing to remove a portrait of Lenin led to his dismissal from the uncompleted mural project in 1933, though he was paid in full. Immediately, he lost an upcoming contract to paint a mural for General Motors at the Chicago’s World Fair. Rivera’s hardline attitude, perhaps due to a poor assessment of his standing, came with a price. He would be without contracts in the US until 1940 when San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger invited him to paint Pan American Unity at the Golden Gate International Exposition. What might have happened in those seven years down a road not taken?

Using the Rockefeller mural money, Rivera painted Portrait of America, a series of portable panels at the Trotskyist New Workers School in NYC. Unconstrained by a patron, Rivera depicted warmongering, discrimination, lynching, and the police in their role as maintainers of the status quo. As Oles pointed out, Rivera was calling our country out. These problems are still unresolved 87 years later. Only 8 of the original 21 Portrait of America panels still exist, many destroyed in a fire. It raises the question of whether having detailed images can be a substitute for the real art work, as proponents of the demolition of the San Francisco murals have suggested. In 1934 Rivera reconceived Man at the Crossroads at a slightly smaller scale as Man, Controller of the Universe at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. This is an atypical work-around; the original artist copied the piece, specifically for a new home. Google has collaborated with the Royal Academy to make a high-resolution copy of a copy of DaVinci’s Last Supper.  Having been to the air-locked space in Milan where the original is housed; a rich, time-shifting ambiance is lost if you’re not in the “space” Leonardo inhabited. Currently, there is discussion about whether Frida’s long-lost The Wounded Table (1940) has been found. Or is it a poor copy?

We ourselves are “copies.” All the cells which comprise us, are completely changed over every seven to ten years. Which leads invariably to the question, “Where does consciousness reside in this fluid convocation of star-stuff”? “Where is the ‘me’”?

Some conservators ask, if an artwork is site-specific, has it been “saved” if it’s moved to a diminished setting? An example they offer is the controversy over the  Piazzoni murals, which were moved from the old San Francisco City Library to the DeYoung Museum. Rivera considered murals to be architectural elements, like at the Detroit Institute of Arts. So he might aver that they’re all site-specific (with the exception of “portable” murals). However, the Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Central Alameda was moved across the street from a seismically compromised Hotel del Prado to a fine new home at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. Our Pan American Unity mural was never installed (thankfully) in the originally designated venue, a grand library at City College. The mural was to be placed so high that it could not be truly appreciated. But, as Diego also said about painting a mural: “You choose the wall, or take what is offered without a choice in the matter.” Our mural will come back from SFMOMA to a new home at City College, specifically designed to give the viewer a more expansive experience, as Rivera had envisioned.

At the San Francisco Art Institute conservator Molly Lambert and her crew have finished restoring the Olmsted mural and it “looks terrific”. They’re forging ahead with another “lost” fresco.

Cultural Heritage Imaging was awarded and has started work on an NEH CARES grant to fine tune and polish the photogrammetry imaging of the mural started in 2015. The initial work was funded by the Foundation of City College’s Diego Rivera account, which will also help support this project. This new phase is part of federal salary funding to put organizations back to work. Nationally, CHI was one of only  317 organizations selected.

NEH CARES grants will also enable organizations to prepare buildings, exhibitions, and programs for reopening. The National Willa Cather Center in Nebraska will use an NEH CARES grant to plan for a phased reopening of its historic sites by retraining staff who work closely with visitors, and creating outdoor interpretation spaces to support self-guided tours. Another grant will enable completion of a 3D digital model of Diego Rivera’s monumental 1940 Pan American Unity fresco to make the 74-foot work in San Francisco accessible to viewers across the globe. Additional grants will support staff positions at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, and smartphone tours at the Enfield Shaker Museum in New Hampshire.

All the data gleaned last summer by the SFMOMA art conservation team will be integrated into the existing photogrammetry files, including the mapping of the “giornata,” each day’s work. This will complete a precise digital benchmark of the mural’s condition in 2020, prior to the move to the museum. (Eighty years ago, Diego was still designing the mural, unveiling the full-scale sinopia drawing on July 25.) The huge files are being hosted by the Stanford Digital Library and, importantly, the grant will underwrite making the work publicly accessible. This imagery is not a substitute for the art work, but a fulfillment of our responsibility to future mural stewards. Recently, Art in American wrote, “ it is time once again to envision what art looks like as a public good.”

Conservator Kiernan Graves sends notice of a very interesting free on-line event; Untold Stories Presents: Preserving Cultural Landscapes on July 21, 2020 at 3:30 -5:00 pm EST (note: this is Eastern time).  The goal is “pursuing an art conservation profession that represents and preserves a fuller spectrum of human cultural heritage.” Here is a registration link.

We are working with MagnaChrome to create a 6’ x 20’ hi-res, digital mural reproduction for the Culinary Dept.’s dining room. It will replace the fading, 23 year old photographic version, my first Diego Rivera related project. The advantage of the smaller reproduction is that it allows the viewer to see the entire work at once and the dualities Rivera encoded. This new reproduction will be the sole record of the mural on campus for the three years it is on display at SFMOMA. Technology has come so far; CHI is furnishing the 7.4 Gigapixel files. In 1998 our 250 MB file seemed colossal.

San Francisco Symphony Director Michael Tilson Thomas, retiring after 25 years, was feted with MTT25: An American Icon. He has been awarded Kennedy Center honors and numerous Grammy’s. Years ago, MTT’s staff graciously sent me a copy of a November 1935 postcard  George Gershwin sent from Mexico City. He had gone there in the wake of the poor Broadway reception for Porgy and Bess in October. The post card to his friend Mabel Schirmer in NYC said that Diego had given him a tour of the Palacio Nacional murals, “It was a grand experience.” (See postcard at May 15, 1940) The San Angel Inn on the postcard is where George stayed, across the street from Diego and Frida’s Casa/Estudios. In May 1940, movie star Paulette Goddard stayed at the Inn and helped Diego escape the police. The postcard “bounced around” but, like a homing pigeon, ended up in San Francisco with MTT, a huge Gershwin fan (hum along). This was the genesis of my play Rapsodia en Azul: An American in Mexico about a real party thrown for Gershwin and attended by Rivera, Kahlo, Siqueiros, Covarrubias, Noguchi, and more. (Kudos to Michael and Jean Strunsky’s Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust and their archivist Michael Owen, a CCSF Library program alumnus, for help over the years.) PBS Great Performances at the Met will televise Porgy and Bess on July 17, 2020 at 9 p.m.

As we impatiently await the opening of the already installed Frida show at the DeYoung, Art in America reflects on new books by Celia Stahr (Frida in America) and the exhibition catalog by curators Circe Henestrosa and Gannit Ankori. Recently, the DeYoung hosted a webcast, Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving Digital Curator Discussion and Ex-Voto Drawing Workshop” in anticipation of the exhibit.

Proof-reading the next edition of the mural brochure is almost done. The presence of the “editorial team” is at my shoulder. Over a decade ago my late partners, Masha Zakheim, Robert L. Seward, Julia Bergman, and I agonized over every semicolon, phrase, and attribution as we edited the previous edition. In the past decade new revelations have added nuances to my understanding and, hopefully, the “team” would approve my revisions. CCSF art historian Dr. Nicole Oest, heir apparent to the mural stewardship, is shepherding the student project along. She and ESL instructor Jeffrey Goldthorpe have been adding to the website Curriculum page, as well. As more instruction goes on-line in response to the COVID quarantine, we want to make resources available to CCSF instructors and whomever else wants to integrate mural studies into their teaching. My dear friend Tina Martin, emeritus CCSF ESL instructor, sent me a link to her remembrances of the Diego Rivera Mural Project. Tina was instrumental in inculcating the mural into ESL curriculum. (N.B. Recently, it has been decided to name the new performance arts space and new home of the mural the Diego Rivera Theatre.)

Zoom meetings for the mural move continue. It occurs to me that all the colorful, exploratory stress-analysis graphical work done by the Graduate Mechanical Engineering Department at UNAM, (National Autonomous University of Mexico) would make a wonderful exhibition.

Every summer I do a mural presentation for DaVinci Camp students (6th-12th grades). They are exposed to Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Art. This summer it’ll have to be a  Zoom session with a PowerPoint presentation. UNAM’s Graduate Engineering Department head  Dr. Alejandro Ramirez is graciously letting me use their images as part of my presentation. Sadly, we still haven’t seen the full-scale mural panels they fabricated for testing purposes. As we are quarantined, I do get limited, but guilty pleasure at seeing Mexico virtually.



May 2020

Photo Credit: instabusters.net

Dear Friends of Diego,

The mask mysteriously appeared. Various photos have materialized of El Rey, our Olmec head replica, hunkered down, standing watch outside the Diego Rivera Theatre. At the sequestered City College of San Francisco, classes became telecourses. The enforced quarantine has given many of us the opportunity to explore. For those not working remotely, it has been a chance to be in another, personal, time zone, as daily life merged into the slow lane.

Many resources have come on-line, some albeit only for short runs. But Alfredo Molina’s turn as Mark Rothko in Red is streaming on PBS Great Performances until May 27. In 2002 Molina had played Diego Rivera in Salma Hayek’s Frida movie.

The San Francisco Public Library has given members access to Kanopy, a cornucopia of great films. The Smithsonian Open Access provides a peek at 3 million pieces of its holdings, for example, a self-portrait of George Gershwin.

Although he does not appear in the mural, George Gershwin’s role in our story is pivotal, almost like a deus ex machina in a Greek play, an outside agent driving the story. His 1935 visit to México led him to advise movie star Paulette Goddard to visit Rivera and get her portrait painted. In 1940, divorced from Frida, Diego was rumored to be ready to marry either artist Irene Bohus or his model Nieves Orozco. When Paulette showed up, Nieves told me that he burned these bridges. While Diego’s infatuation with Paulette didn’t bear fruit, it created the change of trajectory which led to his re-marriage with Frida. The arrival of Paulette created different, but interesting, futures for Irene and Nieves. Over the years I’ve sensed Frida’s warm relationship with George in their brief encounters. Frida and George went shopping together for a dress for another woman. For those not familiar with Gershwin, the recent Carnegie Hall special with Michael Feinstein is a good introduction.

In 1937’s Shall We Dance Gershwin’s long-time friend Fred Astaire sang “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” to Ginger Rogers. The bittersweet song, written very near the end of George’s life, reportedly refers to his feelings for Paulette, who was still married to Charlie Chaplin. In April 2018 I reported how Paulette introduced Diego to Astaire’s choreographer Hermes Pan, which led to Pan’s portrait, Diego’s experiment in depicting motion. Goddard danced with Astaire in Second Chorus, which also featured her next husband, Burgess Meredith.

MoMA’s Dorothea Lange exhibit was only up briefly before the museum closed, but it has posted some streaming features.  NPR did a 4-minute listen.

During its three-day viewing window, the English National Ballet’s Broken Wings, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s brilliant piece on Frida, was a treat. The link still features a ballet trailer and an interview with the choreographer. Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the ENB, danced the signature role as the two Latinas showcased their talents. I had an opportunity to chat with Annabelle about Frida at our mural a couple of years ago when she was working with the San Francisco Ballet and the Smuin Ballet.

Celia Stahr’s new book, Frida in America, came out in early March after a decade’s work. The book quickly became a reference for me. The author’s significant coup was getting access to Lucienne Bloch’s journal. Bloch was a dear friend to Frida and an assistant to Diego at Detroit, at the Rockefeller Center, and at the New Workers School. At the first book signing in San Francisco, we also saw long-time friend Lucienne Allen, Bloch’s granddaughter. Ms. Stahr and I have had a chance to correspond and chat. Her book tour awaits the end of the quarantine.

One of the pitfalls of historical research is to put on blinders and head down a path, you are sure is the right one. You know what they say about assumptions. A scenario about how Frida and Nick Muray hooked-up, which I have been exploring for quite a while, recently took a turn. One of my blinders slipped off. An opinion (which Celia agrees is probably wrong) cited in a footnote, set me thinking in a different direction. The new scenario fits all the constraints of the story’s facts, even more nicely. Unfortunately, people having clandestine affairs, try not to leave too many tracks, except for Frida’s extravagant first love letter to Nick. If initial impressions are important, Nick hit a homerun. (Babe Ruth by Nick.) For all the Frida fans, here is a Virtual Tour of the Casa Azul.

Good news for our project was the passage of the bond issue which will fund the construction of the mural’s future City College home, a new Diego Rivera Theatre. It will be installed upon its return from SFMOMA in 2023.

Paco Link is SFMOMA’s Rivera Project Coordinator. The mural move team’s trip to México was cancelled because of the pandemic. UNAM (National Autonomous University of México), where we were due to work with the graduate mechanical engineering department, also closed. The bi-national work continues via teleconferencing as the various aspects of the mural move proceed.

For the Whitney’s  Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945, Paco Link had previously directed an immersive, three screen film on the Abelardo Rodríguez Market and the adjoining, almost forgotten, Teatro del Pueblo, including murals by Pablo O’Higgins. The Whitney has not announced revised dates for the exhibit, but has put the art on-line. Everyone from Forbes to the NY Times has enthused about the show’s significance. PBS did a segment on the effect of Los Tres Grandes on the contemporary Mexican muralism scene.

Rivera had been in artistic exile from the United States since the destruction of the Rockefeller mural in February 1934, which caused the cancellation of future mural work in the US. In 1940 he returned to a “minefield” whose geography he now knew better. Moreover, the sides had been redefined. In earlier times, his murals might contrast an exploitive capitalist society versus the utopian socialist society. But in 1940 the sides were a democratic society versus a totalitarian society.  Our mural reflects the Stalinist Soviet Union alignment with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.

After the 1939 Non-Aggression Pact signed by the USSR’s Molotov and Germany’s Ribbentrop, many communists were in a dilemma. Had the Soviet Union just inked a pact with the “devil”? Many communists, unable to swallow this cynical agreement, fled the party. But the “true believers” had to concoct a rationale for the pact being a brilliant move. The obvious upside of the Pact was that it bought Stalin time, but, ideologically, it was a weak excuse. After the war started, the local communist stance was for neutrality, denouncing any attempt by the United States to enter the war against Nazi Germany and by inference their ally the Soviet Union. Ironically, this aligned the communists with the America Firsters, a right-wing group in which Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford were prominently involved. This group promoted neutrality, but perhaps out of an infatuation with Hitler and his anti-Semitic policies. Lindbergh said that we did not want to go against Germany’s military might, which he had witnessed first-hand. For communists everything would change in June 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.

One of Rivera’s themes in our mural was the benefits of industrialization, which explains Diego’s infatuation with Henry Ford, despite his politics. In 1943 with the Soviet Union now a US ally, Diego was even more looking to the industrialization of the countries of the Americas. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston offers a database with over 8000 Documents of Latin American and Latino Art. In Arte y Panamericanismo [ICAA RECORD ID 747269], Rivera stated:

“This contributes to Pan-American unity and to the notion that-in conjunction with the planned industrialization supported by the United States-America will not perish beneath the rubble of the racist and oppressive world prone to slavery, but rather will lay the foundation for a new, better and free society.” [my italics]

The American Alliance of Museums and International Council of Museums May meetings in San Francisco were cancelled, but some features may go on-line.

Here is news from the Canal Alliance on the inspirational Dr. Resa.

A year and a half ago Jean Franco and I were interviewed by StoryCorps. Here is their link to my late partner Julia Bergman and me being interviewed in 2010 (use Chrome browser.) Having a librarian as a research partner was wonderful. Having a person I so admired call me friend was sublime.

Stay safe and creative,


February 2020

David Alfaro Siqueiros

David Alfaro Siqueiros

Dear Friends of Diego,

The Mexican muralists are getting off to a roaring start in 2020. As the 100th anniversary of the Mexican muralism program approaches, the Whitney Museum (NYC) unveils Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945,  February 17 through May 17. Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco toppled a cultural border wall and artists north of the frontera gravitated to the energy radiating from a post-revolutionary México. The continent’s artistic poles had shifted. Locally, future Coit Tower muralists Ray Boynton, Ralph Stackpole (who had met Rivera in Paris in 1907), Bernard Zakheim, and Victor Arnautoff made the pilgrimage. From different places Elizabeth Catlett, Marion and Grace Greenwood, Isamu Noguchi and others headed south, often in creaky, leaky vehicles. (Thelma Johnson Streat, who briefly served as an assistant on Pan American Unity, is also represented in the show.)

The Throckmorton Gallery’s Mexican Murals, Identity and Revolution in Images kicked off the theme and is on view until February 29.

One hundred years ago, Diego Rivera was culminating his European gestation with an extended stay in Italy. To master buon fresco, Rivera studied Giotto, Tintoretto, Uccello, and others.  He imprinted the techniques, painterly and geometric, artistic and scientific, with which he would chronicle the history of México.

(Ely de Vescovi, aka Bettina Whitman, was descended from Tintoretto. She concocted the half butanol-half water solution, first used on our mural to extend the drying time of fresco plaster. Recently, our art conservators have found what may be a down-side to the use of this solution. In 1940 she was accepted as an original resident at the Montalvo Art Center, which cut short her tenure as an original assistant on Pan American Unity. In June Mona Hofmann wrote, “We were still living in a hotel [California]-Diego, Bettina and I-on separate floors-still compiling the materials and instruments to start that enormous project.” De Vescovi had worked with Mona in 1934 helping Rivera recreate the “Rockefeller mural” at Bellas Artes, soon after its NYC destruction.)

For those American artists not venturing south, Los Tres Grandes’ energy was delivered by their creative visits north. This influence was formalized by George Biddle’s request to FDR on May 9, 1933 to create a national program to emulate the Mexican program:

“Dear Franklin:

…..There is a matter which I have long considered and which some day might interest your administration. The Mexican artists have created the greatest national school of mural painting since the Italian Renaissance. Diego Rivera tells me that it was only possible because Obregon allowed artists to work at plumber’s wages in order to express on the Government’s buildings the social ideals of the Mexican Revolution.” (Full text, page 2 on AAA link and FDR’s reply.)

(Having seen MoMA’s 80th anniversary Rivera retrospective in the winter of 2011-12, I may wait until spring to go to the Whitney. Though I stayed at the Warwick Hotel, practically across the street from MoMA’s rear entrance, I had to wear everything I brought to jay-walk 54th street without freezing. The Vida Americana show moves to San Antonio in June)

But it wasn’t only artists who went to México. In November 1935 composer George Gershwin went south to look for the kind of musical inspiration he had previously found in Cuba. He didn’t find it, but budding painter Gershwin wrote, “…Spent a great deal of time with charming fat Diego Rivera & charming lovely Mrs. Diego Rivera. Made color pencil portraits of them both.” The polarity of Gershwin’s politics shifted.

(The Gershwin Trust has recently shared a photo of Gershwin sailing home on the SS Santa Paula and shared a copy of the passenger manifest. These are wonderful pushpins in the chronology. The manifest recorded that actor Frank Morgan, soon to be the Wizard of Oz, had boarded in Los Angeles with his wife. They are is in the photo. For those, like me, mired in the minutia; it was a two week trip through the Panama Canal from Mazatlan to NYC with stops. The cast of Porgy and Bess was waiting for Gershwin at the pier.)

Gershwin also met Siqueiros during the visit and helped underwrite the Mexican artist’s Experimental Workshop in New York in 1936. At this workshop Jackson Pollock was introduced to drip painting. Here is a picture of Siqueiros and Pollock.

A comparison of Siqueiros’ portrait of the iconic revolutionary Emiliano Zapata with Rivera’s portrait is very revealing. The darkness and lightness of the concurrent paintings could serve as a metaphor for the political differences that separated the two Mexican artists for a good portion of their lives. Rivera’s alignment with Leon Trotsky became an encumbrance after the ex-leader of the Red army was assassinated in México in 1940, while Rivera painted in San Francisco. Siqueiros had tried dramatically, but unsuccessfully, to machinegun Trotsky several months earlier. Later, when Rivera applied for re-admittance to the Stalinist Mexican communist party, he would disavow this relationship and claim he was really trying to set-up Trotsky by inviting him to asylum in México. In Yuri Slezkine’s House of Government there is a similar example with Konstantine Bulatkin conveniently claiming that he wasn’t really a follower of the tarnished Cossack Filipp Mironov, but only trying to “kill the traitor.”

Siquieros Zapata

David Alfaro Siqueiros Zapata (1931). Oil on canvas, Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Rivera Zapata MOMA

Diego Rivera, Zapata (1931). Fresco, MoMA.

Recently, there was a meeting at City College of San Francisco with architects assembling the Criteria Document for a new Diego Rivera Theater, including the lobby installation of the mural, upon its 2023 return from SFMOMA. The architects are creating functional standards for viewing, lighting, security, and access to guide the architectural firms bidding on the project. This will probably be the mural’s home for the next 80 years, so the planning has to be prescient; we will be handing a pristine mural off to the future. Also addressed was a move of our library’s unique Diego Rivera Collection in proximity to the mural.

On a Saturday afternoon walk on Russian Hill, we stopped by to see the progress of the conservation work on the Olmsted murals at SFAI. The cleaning phase appears to be done. City College restored its Science Building’s Olmsted murals in 2002.

Diego was crazy about Hollywood movies and the stars. Our mural references Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, and Edward G. Robinson in Confessions of a Nazi Spy. Diego went down to LA on the very first weekend he was here to visit Paulette Goddard, who hosted a tea. Diego’s friend, actress Dolores Del Rio, threw a party at the Beachcombers. Later, Edward G. Robinson hosted some guests at his house. Paulette Goddard & Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich & Erich Maria Remarque, and Orson Welles & Dolores Del Rio got to see his Rivera paintings. Talk about some power couples! (Erich Maria Remarque became Paulette’s last husband.)

In January 1941 on his way home from San Francisco, he spent almost a month in Santa Barbara, but went to LA to attend a party at the home of actor Oscar Homolka. (Since Emmy Lou Packard said that they drove via the Pacific Coast Highway, I know the exact day Diego passed through my hometown of Oxnard. How’s that for minutia?) There was a lot of German exile filmmakers at the party, including Salka Viertel. Recently at the Mechanics Institute, Donna Rifkind spoke about her new book, Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Rifkind was a special guest at a screening of Queen Christina (1933), starring a luminous Greta Garbo and co-written by Garbo’s dearest friend Viertel.

The David Owsley Museum of Art (DOMA) at Ball State University will host Mexican Modernity: 20th-Century Paintings from the Zapanta Collection highlighting some of the most significant modern Mexican artists, from January 30 to May 3.

The Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection is scheduled to run at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, February 13 – May 18 and at the  Portland Art Museum, June 13 – September 27. It then moves on to the Denver Art Museum on October 25, 2020 and runs until January 17, 2021 (almost concurrently with SFMOMA’s Diego Rivera’s America.) The Gelman Collection was at SFMOMA in 1996 and has accumulated some frequent flyer miles over the years.

The DeYoung’s Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving opens March 21. Curator Hillary Olcott will be giving a free lecture at the museum on February 27th at 10:30 am. An exhibit at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art in Chicago will highlight the works of Frida Kahlo in the summer of 2020. The list of recent or upcoming Frida shows is staggering. A sidebar to all the “official” Frida shows is the issue of the Frida Kahlo Corporation and the right of artists to include images of Frida in their works.

Went to an opening reception for sculptor Fernando Escartiz’s exhibit, México: Raiz y Fuerza / Mexico: Root and Strength. The event was co-sponsored by the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco and the Public Policy Institute of California. Escartiz’s version of the Mexican Tree of Life represents the relationship between Mexico and San Francisco and is a part of Consul General Remedios Gómez Arnau’s year-long series of exhibits celebrating “2020: Año de México en San Francisco”/ “2020: Mexico’s year in San Francisco.” You may have seen some of the artist’s work at the San Francisco Symphony’s last Dia de los Muertos concert.

Next month the SFMOMA/Atthowe/CCSF “mural move” team is off to México to confer with our UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) team members. Mexican engineers have fabricated full-size, mural panel replicas, allowing us to quantify strategies to handle the real panels. The wonderful closure is that Mexican art conservation, chemical, engineering, and technological prowess is facilitating the move of a priceless mural, which celebrates U.S. technology. Diego’s dream for México has come true.

This coming May, the American Alliance of Museums and the International Council of Museums will be meeting in San Francisco. Both organizations have requested bus tours of the Diego Rivera murals. As it turns 80 years old, this will be a signature year for the Pan American Unity mural; finally getting the international attention it merits.

A heartfelt muchas gracias to my departed partners and to all you who have helped get the mural to this “tipping point”,


“There is a pool of good. No matter where you put in your drop, the whole pool rises.”

Recent Friends of Diego missives are archived at: “Friends of Diego Newsletter”. There is some redundancy as we try to make every newsletter stand-alone.