Woman of Substance


Diego Rivera (1886–1957) was an artist who wanted his work to be about the masses, as well as be available to them. He ardently believed that art could be used as a means to rethink national narratives, and some of his most prosaic subjects—women making tortillas, a man carrying a basket of flowers, children presenting offerings to the dead, vendors selling bananas at a street market—bespeak his passion for his country of origin, as well as the neighboring United States.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s ambitious exhibition, Diego Rivera’s America (July 16, 2022–January 2, 2023), takes on the Mexican Modernist as a transnational figure and Utopian visionary. “Rivera’s America was hemispheric,” explains lead curator James Oles. “He was a truly modern figure, who had his foot in two countries: Mexico and the United States. He understood there were borders. But he also had a vision that maybe we shared a lot, too.”

Bringing together 150 of Rivera’s paintings, frescoes, and large-scale drawings from the pinnacle of the artist’s career, the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s, Diego Rivera’s America is the very first Rivera show to examine the artist’s works thematically. “It’s not a retrospective,” explains Oles. “It’s not about his student days or his late works. It’s about really getting to know his obsessions, his interests, and his thought processes. And that’s very fresh.”

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This story appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of MILIEU.