After being whitewashed for its controversial content shortly after it was completed, Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros’ 1932 Los Angeles mural “America Tropical” was unveiled Tuesday following an extensive conservation project.
“The mural gods are aligned with us,” conservationist Isabel Rojas-Williams told ARTINFO. The 24 years and $10 million in conservation efforts required to return the Olvera Street mural to its original splendor were funded by both the Getty Conservation Institute and the City of Los Angeles. The mural has at its center a Mexican Indian bound to a double cross with an eagle resting above his head. Among Mayan ruins and gnarls of rainforest, two revolutionary soldiers creep in from either side. Originally commissioned by the building managers, the public artwork inspired controversy for its subject matter and within two years of going up was covered completely. Now with the conservation, the sweeping mural in the historic El Pueblo area returns a rare example of Siqueiros’s public art, now visible from a new viewing platform. An accompanying informational center places it in the context of public art in Los Angeles and Siqueiros’s legacy.
In attendance for the official ribbon-cutting reception, the LA Times reported, were Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilman Jose Huizar, El Pueblo manager Chris Espinoza, and members of the Siqueiros family. They were joined by Getty President James Cuno and conservation chief Timothy Whalen.
Siqueiros was renowned for his murals, and with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco he helped lead the rise of Mexican muralism. Actively political in his life and his work, he traveled to the United States after an imprisonment in the early 1930s, and before working on the mural in California he exhibited at the 1932 “Mexican Graphic Art” exhibition at Weyhe Gallery in New York.
His art would continue to gain recognition for depicting the suffering and trials of oppressed people in Mexico in compelling works, such as “Echo of a Scream” (1937) (now in MoMA’s permanent collection), “Portrait of the Bourgeoisie” (1940) in the stairwell of the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (left uncompleted when he participated in an attack on Trotsky), the outdoor mural “The People to the University, the University to the People” (1952) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, and “The March of Humanity on Earth and Toward the Cosmos” (1971) in Mexico City, the last of his major murals before his death in 1974.
He stated in his 1922 “Declaration of Social, Political and Aesthetic Principles” that “the creators of beauty must use their best efforts to produce ideological works of art for the people; art must no longer be the expression of individual satisfaction which it is today, but should aim to become a fighting, educative art for all.”
— Allison Meier
(Image: Roberto Berdecio standing in front of the completed “Tropical America” in 1932. Part of the Getty Research Institute’s collection of materials related to Siqueiros. © ARS, New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City. Photo courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust.)