Diego Rivera Prints

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Diego Rivera: Man at the Crossroads

Man at the Crossroads is a large and striking mural painted in 1933 by Diego Rivera, a Mexican Renaissance painter. It features a middle-aged man sitting in the control chair of a machine surrounded by many era-based images, representing the various “paths” of time. Many believe that the figure is wearing an expression of angst and indecision as he weighs the different options. It can be assumed that the mural’s message revolves around the idea of ‘choice’, which was perhaps Rivera’s purposeful intention.

The Theme of Man at the Crossroads
Man at the  Crossroads by Diego Rivera Originally, Nelson Rockefeller, the painting’s commissioner, wanted an artist like Pablo Picasso or Henri Matisse to paint the mural on the wall of the Rockefeller Center, but both were said to be unavailable. During a meeting of the Rockefellers, it was decided that the work should be presented to Diego Rivera. The artist initially declined the offer, just as Picasso and Matisse had, but his friendship with certain Rockefeller family members, and possibly the painting’s theme, led him to change his mind. Work on the 63 foot mural titled Man at the Crossroads began soon after. More on the Rockefeller Controversy can be found here.

“Looking with hope and high vision to the choosing of a new and better future” was to be the theme of the painting, and Rivera, greatly inspired by the subject matter, proceeded to depict the important factors and events of the early 30’s which he felt were destined to shape the future of the world.

Some of the painting’s integrated images included popular nightclubs, women in revealing bathing suits, gods, biological studies, agriculture, and a war-torn communist country. The goal was to symbolically blend and bridge beliefs of the past and practices of the present, with potential changes for the future, in the hope to provoke man to make wise decisions with regard to personal destiny and the world’s fate.

The Controversy Surrounding Man at the Crossroads
Problems arose when some of the aspects in Man at the Crossroads included Vladimir Lenin leading a protest and communist workers. The mural caused much concern for the Rockefellers and provoked controversy with the public. Many newspaper articles were published calling Man at The Crossroads nothing short of propaganda, fueling significant uproar amongst not only the patrons, but also the building managers.

Despite Rivera’s offer to balance the painting by adding an American figure such as Abraham Lincoln, Rockefeller ordered him to replace Lenin’s face with that of some generic worker, a request that had been previously made. Rivera adamantly refused, so work on the painting was halted and the mural covered. It remained so covered until February of 1934, when it was removed by building attendants. Rivera sadly proclaimed this as an act of “cultural vandalism”.
Pictures of the original mural still exist due to the fact that one of Rivera’s assistants smuggled in a camera in order to take several photos before its destruction. Many believe Rivera had arranged this, as at least one other assistant attempted to take a photo of the painting around the same time, but was stopped by the workers. This leads us to assume that Rivera either felt or knew that the mural was at risk, and he wished to preserve the work in any way he could.

Rivera was determined to present Man at The Crossroads to the public. In late1934, when he was finally able to return to his home country of Mexico, he re-created a new version of the painting, and titled it ‘Man, Controller of the Universe’. It not only contains Lenin’s image, but also Leon Trotsky, who moved to Mexico and maintained a close friendship with Rivera.

Today, Man at The Crossroads is celebrated across the globe for many reasons. Not only does it display an array of emotion, fantastic use of color and a representation of its time, but it also stands as a tribute to the “renegade” attitude and revolutionary mind of man. By not compromising his artistic expression and refusing to change the painting, Rivera secured a place in the hearts of many as a revolutionary artist.

A painting with such a story is sure to maintain popularity for decades, and there are those who would travel many miles to see it. Man at the Crossroads is now located in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.


This article was written by Betty Botis
Betty Botis is an avid art collector and fan of all Diego Rivera's art. She is also a freelance writer for Diego Rivera Prints.



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