September 2018

Donald Cairns

Photo: Kathé Cairns, 2013

Feliz Cumpleaños, Donald Cairns!

Tomorrow, September 27th is the birthday of the t-shirt clad, little boy in the mural, Emmy Lou Packard’s son. He is our touchstone to Diego and the mural work. Donald and Kathé have been staunch supporters of our work for a long time. Years ago, when they still lived in Philadelphia, they allowed my late partner Julia Bergman to bring over a Xerox machine and make copies of Emmy Lou’s research for her never written Diego Rivera in San Francisco. This cache of irreplaceable, primary source material has anchored our research. (Original Emmy Lou papers are now housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and at the Smithsonian’s  Archives of American Art.)

Don Cairns 7 yrs old

Seven-year-old Donald with a steely gaze in a Mexican cowboy suit, a gift from Frida. Photo by Emmy Lou Packard, found in Frida’s belongings.

Join the Living New Deal on October 5-6 as it convenes Women and the Spirit of the New Deal at UC Berkeley. On October 5 Robert Reich will receive the Francis Perkins award. On October 6 the Diego Rivera Mural Project will receive a Kathryn A. Flynn Preservation Award. On behalf of the Project, Associate Vice Chancellor Kristina Whalen and I will accept the award.

FDR modeled the New Deal’s WPA Federal Art Project on Diego Rivera. Several of FDR’s grandchildren are on The Living New Deal Advisory Board. Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a short article on FDR and humility.

Dudley Carter’s grandson Peter Vaughn came by to visit the mural in late August.  We are working on filling in Dudley’s page on our website with help from emeritus CCSF art instructors Phil Pasquini and Roger Baird, who worked with Dudley when he came to CCSF in 1983 and 1986 to restore his works. As a student, artist Emmanuel Montoya, who currently has a print show at the Mexican Consulate, worked with Dudley at City College. He has been a generous resource, providing pictures and audio interviews.

Jeff Lohrmann came by to talk about a drawing for Bernard Zakheim’s Coit Tower Library mural. They’re looking for a good home for it and other Zakheim art. As my late dear CCSF friend and mentor Masha Zakheim pointed out, her father Bernard and Diego were good friends in 1930. But in 1940, the Stalinist Zakheim wouldn’t even talk to the Trotskyist Rivera. Both Diego and Frida became Stalinists after WWII. The artifacts are being handled by Albert Nieman of VT Gallery.

Coit Tower The Library Charcoal Drawing

My all-time favorite radical, Tina Modotti, will be chronicled in a mini-series Radical Eye: The Life and Times of Tina Modotti. She was instrumental in introducing Frida to Diego and modeled for him. Her short, incendiary life was pyrotechnic. Hopefully, this work will capture her. Previous depictions of her have fallen short of the mark.

Tina Modotti and Frida Kahlo

Tina Modotti and Frieda Kahlo, 1928

Here is an interesting (for us art-science nerds)  Library of Congress article on the scientific study of three Rivera watercolors about the Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation story. After spectral analysis, a question is posed about why different paints were used in two of the watercolors. A decade ago in researching these artworks to aid Diego’s daughter, Dra. Guadalupe Rivera Marin (who has a birthday next month), I came across the answer. Only The Creation is one of the original three he did in San Francisco in 1931 for a never completed project with John Weatherwax. Two of these paintings being studied were done later, probably in Mexico, hence the different paint.

The December 2017 FOD missive mentioned Life with the Painters of La Ruche by Marevna, Diego’s common-law wife in Paris and mother of Marika. The book recounts first-hand stories of the painters who inhabited this “beehive” in Montparnasse.  Roseberys of London sends word that they will be conducting the “Diego Rivera’s Other Woman: Studio Collection Sale of Marevna on December 5, 2018 …to include portraits of and letters from Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Moïse Kisling, Amedeo Modigliani, Fernand Leger, and Henri Matisse.” A link to the e-catalog will follow when it’s available.

This fall (October 26-28, November 2-3) the City College Theater Dept. will stage a version of Tim Robbins film, The Cradle Will Rock. CCSF director Patricia Miller says Tim Robbins has given his blessings. The 1999 movie dealt with two 1930’s examples of censorship. Orson Welles production of the Federal Theater Project’s musical The Cradle Will Rock was forced to look for another venue after it was shut down. Diego Rivera had his famous cause célèbre when the Rockefeller mural was destroyed.

CHI reports about the photogrammetry work that, “After a lot of work…we have our first version of all 5 panels in a single (very large file)  It is ~ 20 gigapixels.” As I mentioned last time, Stanford Digital Libraries will host this work, hopefully, in perpetuity. The SFMOMA conservation team will use these images to inform their interventions on the mural. A reduced-resolution version of this file will be used to generate a 6’ x 20’ hi-res reproduction of the mural to replace the old version installed in 1997 in our Culinary Department’s Chef’s Table dining room. That 17 month project sucked me into the Diego Rivera work (evidently whole).

When I first met with SFMOMA staff in May 2017, the 2020 Rivera’s America show seemed so far away. Now it’s less than 2 years until our mural will be removed from CCSF to be installed in SFMOMA’s freely-accessible Robert’s Family Gallery. The new Gallery has housed Richard Serra’s huge, steel Sequence sculpture since the expanded museum re-opened in 2016.The museum will soon return Sequence to Stanford’s Cantor Art Center.

Pan American Unity at SFMOMA

Rendering of Pan American Unity in the Roberts Family Gallery at SFMOMA. Image: courtesy SFMOMA.

Then, the SFMOMA Gallery will first showcase French artist JR’s The Chronicles of San Francisco mural beginning on April 25, 2019.  JR said he drew inspiration from Diego Rivera’s murals in San Francisco. Earlier this year after giving JR a tour of Rivera’s Allegory of California at the City Club, he invited me to be photographed, holding an easily recognizable prop, against a green screen in the studio he set up in the Mission. We chatted over chocolate cake. Later, he photographed Jean Franco as Frida.

Art by JR

Tomorrow, Sept. 27 at 7 pm, JR will speak at SFMOMA about the project. This is a partial example of the finished product. Individual people will be animated and speak to you over your phone. The guy with the balloons is me.

We eagerly await the programming around the Rivera show, as it firms up over the next two years. Recently, SFMOMA and I were both approached by the choreographer of an established local dance company to explore a dance program in connection with the 2020 exhibition. We’ll meet later this week.

Given that frescos can last so long, it is encouraging to attend CCSF sessions for the educational component of the SFMOMA collaboration. There’s a lot of new faces in addition to long-time supporters of the mural. Though, I’ve often quoted Getty Conservation Institute conservator Francesca Piqué’s admonition to act as if our mural would last 200 years; 2000-year-old frescos have been routinely found in the ruins of Pompeii.

There is talk about endowing a position to institutionalize the stewardship work we’ve done (hopefully, before I’m institutionalized). Erik Sherman quotes Jack Ma, the retiring founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in a recent article. These following principles very much apply to the on-going stewardship of the mural.

  • You can’t do everything by yourself,
  • you won’t last forever, and
  • for real success, your undertaking should be able to continue without you.