Tourism for Locals: Diego Rivera Mural Satisfies the Eyes and Wallet

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Juan De Anda/ SF Weekly
Top Half Panorama of Diego Rivera's SF Mural: "Pan American Unity"
Want to experience the vibrancy of museum-worthy visual art but live on a street art budget?

In this week's "Tourism for Locals" entry, we bring you a massive piece of modern art that was commissioned specifically for San Francisco by one of the greatest modernist painters of the 20th century: Diego Rivera.

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Juan De Anda/ SF Weekly
Bottom Half Panorama of Diego Rivera's SF Mural: "Pan American Unity"
For those who don't know who he is aside from his portrayal by the actor Alfred Molina in the 2002 Academy Award winning film "Frida" starring Salma Hayek, Rivera was an enigmatic painter who fostered the muralist style of painting in Mexico at the turn of the century.

Along with Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfredo Siqueiros, Rivera created allegorical and fantastical depictions of traditional indigenous cultures alongside uplifting and humane characterizations of working class people that were welded with visions of a utopian future under socialism. The purpose of the muralist movement was to create public art that would educate those who were from low-income backgrounds but also appeal to the aesthetic tastes of those from the higher rungs of the social ladder.

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Juan De Anda/ SF Weekly
Detail showing Bay Bridge and Helen Crlenkovich, a 1939 national diving champion, 1940 Olympic team member and CCSF graduate.
Between 1930 and 1940, he painted murals in San Francisco, Detroit and New York that focused on social and cultural progress through industry and technology. In San Francisco, Rivera's The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent, commonly called Pan American Unity, has it's merit for it's historical significance.

Pan American Unity is his largest work in the United States measuring at approximately 1,800 square feet and it was his last work in this country. The 1940 masterpiece is immense, bright, and challenging fresco rich in symbolism and imagery from the North American continent (Canada, U.S., Mexico, Central America). It is comprised of ten distinct but continuous panels along the lobby wall of City College of San Francisco's Diego Rivera Theatre on the east side of the campus.

The genesis of the mural was the "Art in Action" program hosted by the 1940 season of the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Fair-goers could go and be entertained by watching various artist create art.

Rivera painted a panorama of the Bay Area that merges with scenes from the Valley of Mexico to the left and Northern California on the right. The central figure is the embodiment of the merging of culture and plastic arts of the south with the industrial arts of the north. The Aztec goddess Coatlicue is being fused with a Detroit Motor Company stamping machine to embody the power in unifying past and present.

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Juan De Anda/ SF Weekly
Scenes of the bay: Treasure Island, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge
This is one of three Rivera murals in the city. The other two: The Allegory of California and The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City are located in The Pacific Stock Exchange and The San Francisco Art Institute, respectively.

Outbound Muni metro lines J, K and M with take you to City College as well as BART, get off at Balboa Park Station.

Some words of advice for viewing: Take all the visuals in and try to spot references to Charlie Chaplin, San Francisco landmarks, Frida Kahlo, George Washington, and World War II. Also, there is a staircase to a viewing platform that will let you view the top half of the fresco without you craning your neck to breaking points. And when you are done admiring the color and history of the fresco, head over to nearby Balboa Park and have a picnic al fresco. You deserve it.

Public viewing hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday. Admission is free but donations are greatly appreciated.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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9 comments
Jason Gaskins
Jason Gaskins

I have a feeling that I have seen this before? any one feel the same way?

Oscar Bazán
Oscar Bazán

isn't in the city club - sansome and pine st?

Wendy Price
Wendy Price

Yes, I used to go an stare at it. : )

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