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Painter Diego Rivera's mind, political passion, on display

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By dpa news     Sep 26, 2007 in Entertainment
A mural about the US intervention in Guatemala was rolled up in a vault for five decades.
But this Friday, it will emerge as the star of an exhibition about painter Diego Rivera that opens in the eight halls of Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts.
The show of 170 objects, presented Wednesday to the media, fills the palace - the same place that 420,000 people have visited in recent months to pay homage to Rivera's wife, the painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), on the centenary of her birth.
The exhibit shows small pencilled notes, sketches and copies as well as 23 portable murals in different sizes, paying tribute to the creative mind of Rivera (1886-1957), one of the top exponents of Mexican mural painting.
The aim of the exhibition "Diego Rivera: A Mural Epic" is to show the painter's work step by step to the public. The artist, with an academic background, lived in Europe, painted in Mexico and the United States and left a prolific legacy impregnated with his social and political militancy.
"We must have around 9,000 works by Diego, including drawings, watercolours and paintings, plus all the muralistic production, plus the Communist Party, plus fifty-some women that he had sex with. Really, when?
"What we really have to see here is this man's ability, his head," said the painter's grandson Juan Coronel Rivera, one of the curators of the exhibition.
Beyond the mural Glorious Victory (1954), found in 2000 in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and shown for the first time in half a century, the exhibition presents works like five panels of the mural Portrait of America, heavily criticized in its day for its political content.
Many of the pieces come from private collections. There is a mural of indigenous people bathing in the Juchitan River, another that shows tree trunks with a female silhouette, a panel with mosaics of the comic Cantinflas issued from the Insurgents' Theatre in Mexico City and pieces on the industrial era.
"If we look at Diego's work, he not only paints an idea, or a plastic idea. He also tells a story or makes a political criticism, but he does not just see a part of the story, but rather the whole complete story," said the expert Carlos Phillips Olmedo.
Unlike other Mexican muralists, like David Alfaro Siqueiros or Jose Clemente Orozco, Rivera "is a more romantic painter, in the good sense of the word," Phillips Olmedo told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
"Diego was a very tender man, in truth, with all his political radicalism, with his political activism," the expert noted.
The mural "Glorious Victory" is a political satire. That was the phrase used by former US secretary of state John Foster Dulles to describe the operation that brought down Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz (1951-1954).
In the painting, the winners shake hands, the portrait of a smiling US president Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) appears on a bomb and the papal nuncio gives his blessing, while peasants load bananas on their backs and blood drops from the dismembered bodies of children.
Since it had not been shown since Rivera died, Mexican specialists had not yet had a chance to analyze it. When it was taken to Mexico for this exhibition, they discovered another painting on the reverse side, which Rivera never finished.
An original reproduction by Rivera of the mural Man at the Crossroads is also shown at the Palace of Fine Arts. The work was done at the RCA Rockefeller Center in New York and included a portrait of Lenin, among other things that upset patron Nelson Rockefeller. The painter refused to alter it, and Rockefeller paid for it and then destroyed it.
Numerous murals by the fervently communist Rivera were ordered by and survive at "capitalist" buildings in the United States.
"The end justifies the means. What Diego wanted was to present his ideology," grandson Coronel Rivera told dpa. "He was not selling out to capitalism, because he did not go to paint works of a bourgeois order, but rather went to paint works of a communist order for the most bourgeois buildings of that time," he added.
The exhibition "Diego Rivera: A Mural Epic" will be open until December 16 in Mexico City. dpa as vs pr
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