Diego Rivera: Man at the Crossroads
Man at the Crossroads is a large and striking mural
painted in 1933 by Diego Rivera, a Mexican Renaissance
painter. It features a middle-aged man sitting in the
control chair of a machine surrounded by many era-based
images, representing the various “paths”
of time. Many believe that the figure is wearing an
expression of angst and indecision as he weighs the
different options. It can be assumed that the mural’s
message revolves around the idea of ‘choice’,
which was perhaps Rivera’s purposeful intention.
The Theme of Man at the Crossroads
Originally, Nelson Rockefeller, the painting’s
commissioner, wanted an artist like Pablo Picasso or
Henri Matisse to paint the mural on the wall of the
Rockefeller Center, but both were said to be unavailable.
During a meeting of the Rockefellers, it was decided
that the work should be presented to Diego Rivera. The
artist initially declined the offer, just as Picasso
and Matisse had, but his friendship with certain Rockefeller
family members, and possibly the painting’s theme,
led him to change his mind. Work on the 63 foot mural
titled Man at the Crossroads began soon after.
More on the Rockefeller Controversy can be found here.
“Looking with hope and high vision to the choosing
of a new and better future” was to be the theme
of the painting, and Rivera, greatly inspired by the
subject matter, proceeded to depict the important factors
and events of the early 30’s which he felt were
destined to shape the future of the world.
Some of the painting’s integrated images included
popular nightclubs, women in revealing bathing suits,
gods, biological studies, agriculture, and a war-torn
communist country. The goal was to symbolically blend
and bridge beliefs of the past and practices of the
present, with potential changes for the future, in the
hope to provoke man to make wise decisions with regard
to personal destiny and the world’s fate.
The Controversy Surrounding Man at the Crossroads
Problems arose when some of the aspects in Man at the
Crossroads included Vladimir Lenin leading a protest
and communist workers. The mural caused much concern
for the Rockefellers and provoked controversy with the
public. Many newspaper articles were published calling
Man at The Crossroads nothing short of propaganda, fueling
significant uproar amongst not only the patrons, but
also the building managers.
Despite Rivera’s offer to balance the painting
by adding an American figure such as Abraham Lincoln,
Rockefeller ordered him to replace Lenin’s face
with that of some generic worker, a request that had
been previously made. Rivera adamantly refused, so work
on the painting was halted and the mural covered. It
remained so covered until February of 1934, when it
was removed by building attendants. Rivera sadly proclaimed
this as an act of “cultural vandalism”.
Pictures of the original mural still exist due to the
fact that one of Rivera’s assistants smuggled
in a camera in order to take several photos before its
destruction. Many believe Rivera had arranged this,
as at least one other assistant attempted to take a
photo of the painting around the same time, but was
stopped by the workers. This leads us to assume that
Rivera either felt or knew that the mural was at risk,
and he wished to preserve the work in any way he could.
Rivera was determined to present Man at The Crossroads
to the public. In late1934, when he was finally able
to return to his home country of Mexico, he re-created
a new version of the painting, and titled it ‘Man,
Controller of the Universe’. It not only contains
Lenin’s image, but also Leon Trotsky, who moved
to Mexico and maintained a close friendship with Rivera.
Today, Man at The Crossroads is celebrated across the
globe for many reasons. Not only does it display an
array of emotion, fantastic use of color and a representation
of its time, but it also stands as a tribute to the
“renegade” attitude and revolutionary mind
of man. By not compromising his artistic expression
and refusing to change the painting, Rivera secured
a place in the hearts of many as a revolutionary artist.
A painting with such a story is sure to maintain popularity
for decades, and there are those who would travel many
miles to see it. Man at the Crossroads is now located
in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.
This article was written by Betty Botis
Betty Botis is an avid art collector and fan
of all Diego Rivera's art. She is also a freelance writer
for Diego Rivera