The Political Message in Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads Mural

From 1932, Diego Rivera, by that time was already a world-renowned artist with respect to political imagery and depiction through his works, obtained a proposal to imbue his talent by painting a mural on the wall opposite the main entrance of the newly built RCA building in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. To embellish the headquarters of a family enterprise that was the very embodiment of American capitalism, the Rockefellers hired an outspoken communist whose murals famously illustrated his political views (Sax, 1999 p.

13) .

The theme of the mural is known as “Man at the Crossroads Looking" with Uncertainty but with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a Course Leading to a New and Better Future,” but, on the contrary, the family already perceived that they were not going to obtain some conventional progress and uplift painting (Sax, 1999 p. 13).

In 1933, Todd-Robertson of Todd Engineering Corporation, which is by that time the development manager for Rockfeller Center, decided that Rivera will the one to create the mural in within the building (Goudsblom, 1999 p.

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In this project, Rivera continued to enhance his subject matter by including the concepts of technology and workers available. However, this would be Rivera’s most Marxist themed work in the United States. With such respect, the concept of Rivera’s artwork would reveal the entanglements and the realistic scenario of political world in his time.

Scope and Limitations. In the scope of the study, the primary subject concerned is the work of Diego Rivera’s mural entitled the “Man at the Crossroads” with the primary theme of “Man at the Crossroads Looking with Uncertainty but with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a Course Leading to a New and Better Future”.

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In the study, the main perspective involved is interpretation of every object present in the illustrations of Diego Rivera’s mural.

With the concepts of his artwork, the study utilized the biographical background, cultural orientation, social perspectives, and political inclination of the painter, Diego Rivera, to answer the following inquiries of the study. As for the study, the main argument involved is the creation and imbuing of Diego Rivera’s political concept and the rationale of such action. The inquiries, such as “what made Diego Rivera questioned the political concept of his time? Read about the human cost of an illiterate society

What are the possible etiologies or circumstances in his life that contributed to his idea of creating such mural? Etc”. As per the objectives of the study, the following aims to answer the main argument of the discussion:

a. To determine the political implications of Diego Rivera’s mural and the rationale for his idea.

b. To provide a logical and critical analysis on the origin of Diego Rivera’s idea on how he was able to conceptualize the ideas, objects, and perspectives embedded in the mural.

Thesis Statement

The thesis statement of the study depicts the main argument of the discussion. In the study, the thesis statement involves the argument: Diego Rivera’s mural provided political meanings through his mural, Man at the Crossroads; however, did his biographical, cultural, and social background affected his perspectives on these political concepts embedded in his paintings?

From the point of view on Diego’s biographical information, he was indeed a Mexican artist whose murals were obtained wide attention in the 1930s, at the same time that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was building the architectural landmark to be known as Rockefeller Center in New York City. The Rockefeller Center, located on Fifth Avenue, would compose of different buildings in the Art Deco style with various artworks containing the entrances, and three large murals planned for the central building, then called the RCA building.

The overall theme that the artists were to portray was ‘Man, at the Crossroads, Looks Toward His Future” (Hadden, 2004 p. 113). Into this fluid landscape came one of the great Mexican muralists, best known is Diego Rivera (1886-1957), who is a legendary figure in twentieth-century art due to his ability to combine the creative illustrations of seemingly unrelated murals yet comprising with complex meaning.

The destruction of Rivera’s Rockefeller Center mural, Man at the Crossroads, in 1933 (because he refused to remove a portrait of Lenin) is but one of the landmarks in what has been described as The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera (Bertram David Wolfe 1963; cited from Karlsson et. al. , 2004 p. 185).

After Rivera’s exposure to the Mexican revolution in Paris, Rivera came back to his homeland during the presidency of Atvaro Obregon in 1921 and emerged as the primary leaders of the effort to initiate education towards illiterate people through Rivera’s famous well-illustrated murals.

Rivera’s murals were frankly didactic, intended to inspire a sense of nationalist and socialist identity in a still largely illiterate population; their glorification of creative labour or their excoriation of capitalism can be crude…” But they were powerful, and they influenced the American painters who signed on for the Federal Art Project after 1935 (Ian Chilvers 1998, p. 519; cited in Karlsson et. al. , 2004 p. 185). During this time, the artist community, as well as the some political personnel, knew very well Rivera’s leftist political leanings.

Moreover, with such political side and extraordinary skills, Rivera was able to obtain the project from Rockefeller. However, Rockefeller commissioned Rivera, along with Jose Maria Sert of Spain and Frank Brangwyn of England, which were also famous and expert muralists of their time, to create the RCA building murals and asked them to coordinate their designs around the overall theme (Hadden, 2004 p. 114). After the initiation of the mural process, the Rockefeller group knew Rivera’s political inclination and provided the intentions of including Communist perspectives as one of the essential features in the murals.

Rivera, at that point, was considering this mural as one of his masterpieces, since the mural was also known to depict large groups of diverse people. However, when his Rockefeller Center mural neared completion and recognizable faces could be discerned, it became obvious that Rivera had included a portrait of Lenin, the young Communist leader, shown joining the hands of a soldier and a black man, while unemployed laborers stood behind waving red flags (Hadden, 2004 p. 114).

At this point, Rivera was approached and told that the mural was not acceptable to the Rockefeller family, and he was requested to make further additions in order to bring his mural more into line with those of the other two artists. When he refused, he was clearly bribed by the price of full ($21,000 for three murals) and told that his mural would not be exhibited. This event became highly publicized in the New York press throughout the spring and fall of 1933, and artists and art students rallied to his support (Hadden, 2004 p. 14).

Because the Rockefeller family embodied the spirit of capitalism, the choices made by Rivera caused many to take sides. Moreover, considering Rivera’s leftist orientation, he was able to provide his inclination in this political aspect imbuing Lenin in his art. On a different angle in the perspective of Diego Rivera, he predicted the liberation of man from machine by socialist transformation of society, especially pertaining to the concept of industrial revolution.

Rivera was a great synthesizer as well as historian, and his style evidently utilizes geographical layouts to improvise his theme, and in his painting, he used intersecting ellipses to contrast macrocosm and microcosm. In this simple technical technique, Rivera utilizes this to interpret and to provide the depiction of contrasting views between capitalism and socialism as opposing political systems, with capitalism representing the decaying of society, which includes the use of chemical warfare, and socialism representing the hope for humankind.

The Rockefellers even recognize the depiction Rivera is installing in his paintings, and they even provided him the idea of utilizing Lenin as the symbol of true communism in this mural, which represents the man at the crossroads of life. According to the book of Goudsblom (1999), Rivera at this point felt that the hope of the future lies in the organization of producers into harmony and friendship and the control of natural forces through high scientific knowledge and the development of the skilled worker (p. 36).

From one of the critics in Rivera’s time, his mural was critiqued by the Detroit group indicating that his contained blasphemous, pornographic and Communist elements, and held it against him that he had admitted the raw world of industry into the sublime world of culture. In the core interpretation of the mural is a fanciful portrayal of the artists’ interpretation in the light of hidden political implications via chromosomal replication, and the apparatus that is in turn held by a robust human hand.

Interestingly, Rivera was uncommon among various artists and muralists with his strong inclinations and belief that it is science and technology that can provide the greatest hope for the future welfare of humankind. The grip of that human hand exemplified his faith that we would some day understand the machinery of chromosomal replication and is able to turn that understanding to our advantage; hence, Rivera’s prediction now manifests as an essential perspective (Bishop, 2003 p. 173).

Rivera’s perspective is in line with canonical Communists like Rivera believed science and technology could move and cooperate hand in hand with liberation. Rivera is considered as one of the first responding muralists that institutes an anti-Semitic episode in a mural panel painted toward the end of 1933 in the didactic manner he utilized at that time. Moreover, Rivera and his anti-Semitic ideas had greatly convinced him to express his contradiction to the political systems of Communism.

The placement of the symbol of Lenin in his portrait was deemed by the opposed political community as a proposition of revolution. The blooming and star dome of the Mexican mural activity started in 1925 upon the Mexican government subsidized murals by Diego Rivera, and his colleagues Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The murals instituted by these Mexican muralists, especially David Rivera, had unquestionably reflected the realistic political and social revolution in self—affirming terms.

In fact, the spread of the Mexican murals, as well as their fame in the artists and social environment, reached its height in the United States in 1932. From 1930 to 1934, the concepts the perspectives of the Mexican muralists, most especially David Rivera, had been greatly patronized in the United States due to the presence of political manifestations, which by that time is an important tool to provide discrete contradiction to the political idealism instituted by the opposing parties, communism and capitalism.

In retrospect this was a curious proposal because the Mexican murals, with their Mexican folk art and modernist expression, were forged from the evident Marxist ideology and conceptualities. Evidently, Diego Rivera moves in great ideations of Marxist political concepts, much more like in the painting wherein he conjoined the ideas of capitalism and the class divisions are absolutely evident. Painting public walls became the simple methodology for Mexican artists to relay their messages of social revolution.

Rivera’s strong, dynamic history paintings presented a hold, readable lesson intended to be accessible to the masses (Carraro, 1996 p. 81-82). According to Carraro (1996), The Marxist ideology notwithstanding, American artists found the Mexican experiment a viable resource as a model for a government- supported art program (p. 82).

The utilization of primary works by internationally known Mexican artists promoted the concept of mural painting in the United States; however, their presence obtained several controversial claims from communist and capitalist groups.

Hence, in May 1933, Rivera’s famous politically depicting of Communist ideation, Man at the Crossroads, was covered and then removed from public view. The infamous battle of Rockefeller Center ensued when John D. Rockefeller refused and projected to Rivera’ blatant condemnation of capitalism and the inclusion of Lenin in the mural commissioned for the new center; hence, such scenario issued a massive trigger and initiated the sense of impending revolutionary conflict between the two political parties.

Moreover, the scandal centered for Americans the larger inquiries involving the controversies of an American mural renaissance. Conclusion From the two opposing political views of capitalism and communism, brown-skinned individuals living in the western origin, who represent the multiplicity of Mexican peoples and the complexity of their history and struggles in Mexico and the United States, have utilized the mural imageries in order to somewhat illustrate their condition as a society, and culture as with the effects of political conflicts.

The evident and inspiring thrust of the murals and the violent expressionism of the elements embedded owe a debt to Rivera—whom the artist has long been admired. For Mexican muralist like Diego Rivera, the painting, murals and the concept of art does not only comply in the standards of beauty, or what society can think of as a standard, or from what can the society accepts.

As for Rivera’s mural, The Man at the Crossroads, the most important thing is to provide the reality of the silent social revolution occurring due to the divisions of political perspective within the society. The communism, as symbolized by the center image or Lenin and the capitalism, which is symbolized by the background people, involves the actual attributes of Diego Rivera’s political meaning in his work. As for the answer to the main argument, the background and political inclination of Diego Rivera as Marxism affected the view and meaning depicted in the mural.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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The Political Message in Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads Mural. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Political Message in Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads Mural essay
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