Rivera vs. Rockefeller

Activity Steps:

To understand Diego Rivera's artistic decisions related to the Rockefeller Center mural, your class will role-play the situation's various points of view

1. Research:
Work with a small group to research Rivera's Rockefeller Center mural, which was censored because it contained an image of Vladimir Lenin. You will use this information to role-play a scenario in which Rockefeller demands that Rivera repaint his mural without the image of Lenin, whom Rivera regards as a positive symbol of Communism. Rockefeller threatens to withhold Rivera's payment if he does not comply.
2. Select:
Choose who will play each role:

  1. Diego Rivera
  2. John D. Rockefeller Jr.
  3. Rivera's advisors (for instance his friend David Alfaro Siqueiros or his wife, Frida Kahlo)
  4. the center's building managers, who ultimately decide the fate of the mural
  5. city officials
  6. newspaper reporters
  7. the public, who may take either side
3. Present:
With your teacher guiding the discussion, debate the issue with your classmates from the point of view of your chosen role. Discuss whether the artist should repaint the mural or fight to preserve his original image, thereby symbolically standing by his political beliefs. Consider the effects of Rivera's decision for the artist himself and for other artists at that time in the United States and Mexico. Are Rivera and Rockefeller equally justified in their respective positions?
4. Optional:
Discuss as a class what some of
the effects would have been (for the parties involved and for the larger art world) if Rivera's supporters had won the battle and the mural had remained intact.
5. Dialogue:
As a class, discuss whose point of view seemed most sympathetic and whether Rivera did the right thing. What did the different people in this situation want from one another? What did each one stand to lose (business credibility, cultural credibility, money, etc.)?
6. Reflect:
In your opinion, was Rivera's mural revolutionary? What about the events surrounding it? How did his personal point of view affect the intended and perceived message of his art? As an artist in a similar situation, what would you do?