Tag Archives: Mexico

Diego Rivera Murals in San Francisco: Critical Guide for Visiting

There are three Diego Rivera frescoes in San Francisco, California. To get in to see them all is not easy, but it is well worth the effort. It was an incredible treat to be able to see these frescoes up close and personal. A word of advice: it’s very important to plan and confirm your visits in advance.

In Mexico, Rivera intended his murals to be accessible to the public. That was an important social and political premise of the Mexican Muralist Movement — art for and of the people. All are filled with consistent Rivera themes: the worker, the common soldier, the peasant farmer and industry. These murals mirror those in Mexico City of the same era (like Man, Controller of the Universe) and I recognize similar scenes and characters.

Looking for Diego Rivera + Frida Kahlo in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour

These are the three murals in order of their creation:

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Pan American Unity, left half

Pan American Unity, left half

Pan American Unity, right side

Pan American Unity, right half

These are the three murals in order of accessibility:

San Francisco Art Institute

The most accessible fresco is The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City at the San Francisco Art Institute, open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is a private, degree-granting university. Doors are open to students and to the public Monday through Friday. Check for weekend hours. The challenge is to find parking around the steep Cow Hollow hills. But if you are in a taxi or take UBER, no worries.

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The mural is at the end of a student exhibition gallery space on the main level to the left of the entry courtyard. We followed good directional signs to get there. Once inside, the floor to ceiling wall art dominates the space.

This is a painting within a painting. Rivera included himself (back to viewer, with his ample frame centered on the scaffolding) with helpers making a fresco. His patrons who financed the project are part of the set. It reminds me of the caricature portraits we see at the Palacio Nacional depicting the history of Mexico that Rivera started in 1929 at about the same time. In fact, this Mexico City mural was not completed for another ten years because of commissions like this one in the U.S. It is very Rivera with a bold figures, the central one wearing a red star. You will see a lot of similarities here if you are familiar with his style.

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There is a small donation box in front suggesting support for mural preservation. We didn’t find hand-out information, art history notes or guestbook. The best descriptions are online, which I suggest you read before visiting.

800 Chestnut Street (between Jones and Leavenworth), San Francisco, CA 94133. Phone: 415-771-7020

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Looking for Diego Rivera + Frida Kahlo in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour

City College of San Francisco

Located in the Sunset on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, City College of San Francisco boasts a comprehensive historical reference mural to The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and the South on this Continent.  Informally called The Pan American Unity Mural, Rivera painted it in 1940 for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.

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He was invited by civic and arts leaders to participate in the Exposition’s “Art in Action” program, joining other prominent artists. Fair-goers watched while Rivera and his assistants painted!

Frida Kahlo, who marries Rivera for the second time in San Francisco in 1940, stands front and center, while Rivera, his back to the viewer, holds the hand of actress Paulette Goddard. This mural is the most political of the three San Francisco pieces and is parallel in style to the Palacio Nacional mural of the same era, each featuring the founding fathers of Mexico and the USA.

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Because of state funding cuts, visiting hours at SFCC are limited. Please consult the website to see when there is a volunteer faculty/staff member scheduled to open the Diego Rivera Theatre where the mural can be seen.

This important mural is housed in a very cramped space. I was told that for years the intent has been to build a larger gallery to view it. But … the college depends on designated private gifts to realize project goals. A small donation box sits in front of the mural. We gave more than requested for a beautiful, thorough art history brochure with color photo. Thanks to the college for providing this!

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Notes: Be sure to walk upstairs to a small balcony (don’t trip, it’s also used for storage) to get the most expansive view of the mural. From above, the center view is obstructed by a large carved wood sculpture that obstructs the experience. Free street parking available.

50 Phelan Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94112. Viewing Hours are posted on the website. Phone only goes to voicemail: 415-452-5313

The City Club of San Francisco

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Rivera asked Olympic swimmer Helen Willis to model.

Our experience at The City Club of San Francisco, an exclusive, members only space on the 10th floor of the former Pacific Stock Exchange, proved that you can’t always trust what you read online, even from USA Today. We read the mural was open for viewing from 3 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Not exactly true.

We found out the hard way that you can only gain entrance to see the mural if you make an appointment in advance with a City Club staffer. Denied entry and after repeated phone calls from the lobby that all went to voicemail, we finally connected with a live person. When I introduced myself and requested a visit, I got a harsh scolding about not having an appointment, a tirade about this being a private club, a rant about not to trust internet information, then a reluctant agreement to allow us upstairs to see the mural for ten minutes. We were shocked by staff behavior because of the club’s great reputation for hospitality.

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As we emerged from the elevator, the staffer hid a candy jar from her desktop where she sits sentry on the landing in front of the mural. Seems other riffraff before us dipped into the candy dish and she is keeping a watchful eye.

Lobby, Stock Exchange Tower Building, Art Deco

Lobby, Stock Exchange Tower

The staffer we met is definitely the gatekeeper. You need to call in advance, make an appointment and purr. I wouldn’t say you know me.

Do you think Diego would roll over in his grave?

Stock Exchange Tower, 155 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94104. Phone: 415-362-2480

 

 

Recommendations:

  • Call in advance to each site to confirm opening times.
  • Make an advance appointment directly with The City Club to see the mural there.
  • Educate yourself. Read about each mural in advance since only the City College of San Francisco may publish an art history description.
  • Devote a half-day for visiting the three murals. They are in different parts of the city and traffic can be difficult.
  • Be ready to pay at least $16 per hour to park near the City Club if you are driving a car. Park farther out and use UBER.
  • Be prepared to be disappointed. You may not get in to all venues.
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View from the rooftop terrace, SF Art Institute with Alcatraz.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Tour

Suggested Visiting Route:

  • 11 a.m. — San Francisco Art Institute (open 9 a.m.-7 p.m.)
  • 1 p.m. — City College of San Francisco (open 1-3 p.m.)
  • 3:30 p.m. City Club of San Francisco (by appointment only — call 415-362-2480 well in advance. Purr when you talk to staff.)

A BIG thank you to East Bay friend Mary Ann for organizing this day and driving to all parts of The City.

Coit Tower from the SF Art Institute rooftop terrace.

Coit Tower from the SF Art Institute rooftop terrace. See the Bay Bridge?

 

Iconic Frida Kahlo: A Look Inside Her Closet

Frida Kahlo is iconic. I have described her as the 20th century’s Virgin of Guadalupe. Her legend endures. The Huffington Post has just published a photographic essay by Ishiuchi Miyako of her personal belongings, along with letters and photographs, first revealed decades after her death.

These clothes and other life’s artifacts — letters, corsets, altered shoes to correct the leg length difference of childhood polio, family photographs — are part of a temporary show at Casa Azul where Frida and Diego shared a life together.  So popular, it will continue and you will see it as part of our fall 2015 educational arts programming.

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Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour. Click this link for complete program itinerary. This weekend walking tour also includes visits to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo with transportation.

Choose Your Dates:

  1. September 24-27, 2015.
  2. October 22-25, 2015.
  3. November 12-15, 2015.
  4. December 3-6, 2015.

Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Hawthorne Shafer accompanies all programs.

Visit for the weekend. Make it a getaway. Make this trip part of your Mexico City travel plans. Stop here with us and then go on to other parts of Mexico or wrap up your Mexico trip and explore Mexico City with us before returning home. This is a great orientation to Mexico’s art, history and culture, and to become more familiar with Mexico City .

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Wide Angle View: Antoni Gaudi’s Basilica Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Awesome. Inspiring. Surreal. Transformational. Meditative. Astonishing. Captivating. Beyond imagination. Crazy. No words can adequately describe the Basilica Sagrada Familia in Eixample, Barcelona, Spain.

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You can learn more about this architectural wonder by reading works of art historians, cultural pundits and architects than you can from me. So, I won’t say much more than this is Gaudi’s interpretation of God’s majesty and homage to the sacred family of living beings who inhabit his kingdom.

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Smack dab in the middle of this astonishing sculptural masterpiece is the Christ figure, arms outstretched, body on the cross, suspended under a canopy of lights. Is the architect asking us to suspend all disbelief?  He floats above us, naked, exposed, soaring and protected under an umbrella or cloud of gold. Color dazzles the interior through stained glass windows.

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The supporting columns are like tree trucks with limbs holding up the cavernous ceiling. It is a phantasmagorical dreamscape that can only conjure up what the imagination beholds.

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I arch backward, look up, see the bones of dinosaurs, the hull of a ship, the backbone of man, the spines of sea coral, cut glass, anemones, the eye of god.

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Gaudi lived and worked during the Art Nouveau-Modernism, Impressionism and Cubism eras. Once a strong supporter of the Anticleric movement in Spain, he embraced his renewed Catholicism with a fervor. The Basilica, unfinished, is his testimony to unwavering belief.

Sidebar: At about the same time that 19th Century anticlericalism gained a more solid footing in Europe, in Mexico, anticlericalism became the rallying cry of Mexican reformists with the confiscation of church property in 1824.Sagrada FamiliaBest21-13

Before we left the USA, I put out a call for advice about which lens (or lenses) to take. I was inclined to take only the lighter weight 50mm prime for my Nikon D7000 camera. I am trying to learn how to travel lighter. Thanks to advice from Lynn Nichols and Steve Zavodny (who is a pro pho), I relented and brought along the Tamron 11-16mm and the 17-55mm. Thankfully!

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Most of the photos on this post were taken with the wide angle Tamron lens so I could capture the magnitude of the space.

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We bought tickets in advance from the USA in order to avoid lengthy waits in line and chose to visit the Passion Tower, one of two that is open to visitors. After spending about 45 minutes in the sanctuary we rode an elevator to the top of the tower (at our appointed time), then returned to spend another two hours inside for reflection and photographs.

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By the time we left it was after 2 p.m. and time for tapas at La Catalana, just two blocks away.

Two Photo Workshops Coming Up in Southern Mexico!

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There is a lot of construction going on now. Huge cranes towering above are moving man and machinery as another tower is under construction. Many of the facade mosaic ornaments are covered in protective gauze. Heights are dizzying. Views from the tower top are magnificent. It’s like being in the turret of a medieval castle.

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Compare and contrast with Mexico? The art nouveau movement spawned the European romanticism of Mexico City’s renaissance during the Porfiriata. Catalan architects designed and built here. Examples include stained glass ceilings and construction techniques in the Palacio de Hierro and the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. Rivera brought his classical European training back to Mexico and adapted it to begin the Mexican muralism movement along with Siqueiros and Orozco.

Contact me if you are interested in a Mexico City art history tour:

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

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Critics Sidebar: Our taxi driver had an opinion. He said the Sagrada Familia is a commercial tourism venture and not authentic to the original ideals of Gaudi. Since the building was unfinished when Gaudi died at age 74, it’s completion has been left to architectural interpretation of Gaudi’s original drawings which were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. He recommended we go to Montjuic to see the real Barcelona.

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Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Garden at Casa Azul

Casa Azul, home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Coyoacan, Mexico City, has a stunning garden. Once the home of Frida’s father and mother, and where she was born in 1907, Rivera bought the property after the family amassed huge debt paying for years of treatment after the bus accident that severely handicapped Frida at age eighteen.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-44 The garden is surrounded by intense blue walls, which F & D painted after they moved in. It was expanded when Leon Trotsky moved into the complex for security reasons. He later moved to another house in the neighborhood where he was assassinated by Stalin‘s henchmen in post-revolutionary Soviet Union.MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-34

The garden is a lush expanse of tropical plants, pre-Columbian sculpture, small pools, a miniature pyramid that is a sometimes altar and walking paths.  As you exit the house, built of volcanic stone, after the self-guided tour, you come down a staircase where some pause overlooking a pool lined in tiles painted with frogs.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-15 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-17 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-19Frida called Diego Frog and you see this both here at Casa Azul and at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Xochimilco. Dolores was his patron and preserved the contents of Casa Azul for posterity through her foundation. Frida’s ashes are in the pre-Columbian frog urn on her bedroom dresser.

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There are benches for sitting under the shade and the calm of a fountain. Perfect for reflecting on their lives together and the iconic image of feminism that she has become. I often refer to her as our contemporary Virgin of Guadalupe because Frida Kahlo carries that reverence among art lovers and intellectuals that makes her almost god-like.

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I’ve organized the art history tour Looking for Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera for the past two years and I’ve been to the house no less than six or eight times during this period.

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It is always enthralling, but this time I decided to put myself in the garden, find a backdrop that I liked and wait for photographs, a la Henri Cartier-Bresson.

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I recall Rivera who went to Europe for fourteen years to study the great masters, copying them, refining classical painting techniques, experimenting with Cubism and Impressionism before developing his own remarkable style after returning to Mexico in 1921.

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So, I have ordered the book Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Mind’s Eye, so I can understand the philosophy behind his picture-taking and practice his style.

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Frida Kahlo lived most of her short life in pain.  She died at age 47 in 1954. Rivera died in 1957.  He was twenty-two years older that her. The exhibition space is devoted to indigenous dresses she wore to hide her deformities, polio which she contracted at age eight and then the accident that necessitated living her life in a spinal brace with regular surgeries and hospitalization for traction.

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She was never able to conceive a child and this was a focus of her later painting which captures this life tragedy.

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If you are interested in organizing a small group to explore the Mexican Muralists and the life of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera accompanied by a knowledgeable art historian, please contact me. We are organizing this art history program for fall/winter 2015-2016.

 

Photography: Cartier-Bresson Exhibition in Mexico City

The Mexico City exhibition featuring 398 pieces by French photographer-filmmaker Henri Cartier-Bresson closes May 17, 2015 at Palacio Bellas Artes. Please don’t miss it. Considered the founder of photojournalism, this is the first major retrospective since his death in 2004.

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An hour is not long enough to absorb the emotional intensity of Cartier-Bresson’s work. If you love political history, photojournalism, the decades leading up to World War II and the beginning of photography as an important artistic and cultural vehicle for storytelling, you will love this exhibition. I needed more than two hours to do it justice.

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It represents Cartier-Bresson’s interest in painting, drawing, photography and filmmaking. It is an in-depth view of pre and post-World War Europe, of poverty and racism, of what happens on the street among the people. There are also amazing portraits of notables who he was commissioned to photograph.

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Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Workshop, October 2015

Chiapas Festivals and Faces Photography Workshop, January 2016

For example, the exhibit features photographs taken during the coronation of King George II of England. But Cartier-Bresson concentrates on the expressions of people in the crowd and not the regal procession. Some are using raised mirrors to watch the parade, and to do so, they must turn their backs to the King.

 

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Cartier-Bresson uses this as a metaphor for how the people must turn away from monarchy and embrace a republican government.

Program Notes: Impressions of Africa. “He took little interest in local customs or ritual feasts, as he did not want to get drawn into “Exoticism” or what he called “detestable local colour.”  In a style very much influenced by the European New Vision (high angle shots, geometrical compositions, repeating motifs) he tended to photograph subjects like children playing in the street, dockers at work or the effort of rowers in a boat: in other words, the rhythm of African life.

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Aligned with the intellectuals and artists of the time, he was a powerful voice in support of Communism, active in the Spanish Civil War and the French Resistance.

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As a contemporary of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Cartier-Bresson came to Mexico to photograph, and many of the images shown capture the poor and disenfranchised, including children and prostitutes.

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As I moved through the exhibition, I learned more about photography by seeing this work. Cartier-Bresson shunned fiestas and processions, the formalities of organized life. He concentrated on what was messy and spontaneous.

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His technique was to find a backdrop with texture and interest that he liked and then wait for people to pass through the space.

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As we walked from Palacio Bellas Artes to see the Diego Rivera mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda, I stopped to take photos of young men practicing their skateboard moves a la Henri Cartier-Bresson — perhaps — and a man sitting on a steel post mid-sidewalk, waiting, surrounded by passersby who paid no attention.

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The Decisive Moment, an essay by Cartier-Bresson, describes his philosophical approach to photography and is considered a foundation for all photographers.

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