Our fourth day in Mexico City was Mural Day. First stop was the Diego Rivera mural “A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda” (image #1 here), to be followed by a stroll down the Alameda ourselves. On the way to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Munchkin had had a meltdown of major proportions, and I’ll say no more about that here, except to report that she was still a little tense, a little sniffly, when we went into the room with the mural, and it turned her mood around. She was captivated by all the people, who include kids, a balloon seller, a sweets seller; there’s even a dog in the painting; plus, as she pointed out, the room is like a movie theater. I also liked the other work on exhibit, by an artist I wasn’t familiar with, Saul Kaminer. I liked a sculpture that looked like a bird but had a “shadow” (that is, a flat component reminiscent of a shadow) that was shaped like a person (the name of the show was La sombra de la sombra,sombra means shadow) and the munchkin found that so fascinating that she explained it to Joy a few minutes later.

Then we spent some more time contemplating Rivera’s great portrait of his country-in-progress. I wondered who would be in such a painting if we were the artists. Who shaped our country into what it is now, and who are our best hopes for making it what we dream of? Now Joy and I may make a big collage, which already has the title, in my head, “Nuestra Alameda.” I’m not sure where it should be set. Central Park? But we both thought that that would make it about New York instead of the whole country. Somehow I picture the whole country as background, the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters (and Woody Guthrie is definitely one of the people in the mural).

We headed down the Alameda to Bellas Artes, which has murals by Siquieros, Orozco and Rivera, among others. Rivera’s “Man, Controller of the Universe or Man in the Time Machine” was by far my favorite. He had painted it (with the title “Man at the Crossroads”) on commission for the then-new Rockefeller Center, but Nelson Rockefeller balked at the positive portrayal of Lenin, and had it destroyed. Our loss. Rivera had photographs to work from, and re-painted it in Mexico.

(Frida Kahlo had a similar clash with another member of the New York elite, Clare Booth Luce, who commissioned a portrait of a friend who had killed herself; Luce apparently expected a nice straightforward portrait, and was appalled when she opened the crate and saw The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, an explicit and disturbing painting of the actual suicide. I feel for Luce–and appreciate her keeping the painting and eventually donating it to a museum–but I wonder what she’d expected. Didn’t these people look at the artists’ resumes before giving them a commission?)

Bellas Artes also had a Magritte exhibit, irritatingly scattered among several rooms with no signs informing viewers where to go next nor even that it continued in another room. I can see how curating a show in Bellas Artes is a bit of a nightmare, with all the rooms widely separated by these great big murals. I didn’t like the museum much, on the whole. The layout was confusing and the guards were unhelpful and officious. But the curators of the Magritte show created playful videos of falling Magritte apples and tennis-playing Magritte pipes, and also put together a really terrific room of things to do and make in his vein. The munchkin sat down with the paper, pencils and scissors provided to anyone who wanted to make a bird, and made three for the wall.

On this Day of Murals, we also made our first attempt to see the murals that eventually turned out to be my favorites of the week, the Rivera paintings all over the Department of Education, but it didn’t work out. And that is a long story that I’ll tell more fully on Day 7, which is when it finally reached a happy conclusion.

Our last stop before collapsing was the Palacio Nacional, for more Rivera. It’s a crime to spend only 10 minutes looking at these paintings (many of which you can see here), but the munchkin had fallen asleep and Joy and I had to go upstairs separately, with little time left in the day. I might have to get a book of his murals. They are political screeds, biased in ways that are sometimes downright comical (who else would paint an entire history of the Aztecs without so much as a visual mention of human sacrifice?), but they’re so rich and beautiful. I love the composition, like his use of the staircases to show the chaos of battle and the collapse of a country, people and horses tumbling down the diagonals. And I love the panels showing Aztec farming, building, families, etc., one-sided though they are. These paintings, in that place, are like Rivera’s gift to his people: look, this is your heritage, this is where you come from, one of the world’s great civilizations.

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