Diego Rivera and the RCA Building Mural

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. retained the professional artistic services of the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to design and execute a mural at the lobby entrance of the then new Rockefeller Center.  As the mural began to take shape, Rockefeller took exception to Rivera’s interpretation and, not able to persuade Rivera to modify his expression, eventually ordered the destruction of Rivera’s work just before he was able to complete it.  What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding Diego Rivera’s mural design, Man at the Crossroads Looking With Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future?  Does Rockefeller’s final call for the destruction of Rivera’s mural constitute censorship or not?




  1. I think the decision to destruct a piece of art lies with the owner. Since the Rockefeller Center hired Rivera, then I think they did have the right to destroy it. Do I think it was right? No, I think that they should have at least let the man finish his piece and then decide about destruction. It is sad that River’s work went to waste; maybe the Rockefeller Center should have discussed with him what they wanted, so that the two parties could have come to a compromise about the work. People buy art all the time and modify it to fit their needs. Sometimes think even get ruined in order to be used for the new owner. It is a sad and unfortunate but necessary risk that all artists take when they make work for others.

  2. I disagree with this Sonja’s comment.
    Though the decision to destroy a piece of fine art does lie within the rights of the owner, one becomes an owner only once the artist has been payed in full and the artist has given up their artistic rights to the individual works.
    The Rockefeller Family commissioned and APPROVED the proposed mural before Rivera proceeded with the project. Was Rivera payed in full? Or just stopped in his tracks?
    Today, I think that this would fall into the category of censorship. A similar example can seen with Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” that was the subject of controversy in the 80s and led to the “Culture Wars” in the late 20th century.
    I don’t believe that people buy fine art “all the time and modify it to fit their needs”. This is not a common practice and to do so drastically KILLS the value of the piece.

  3. Regardless of whose right it is to make the call on it’s destruction or alteration, the bottom line is that it was a complete disrespect to the art and effort of Diego Rivera. It shows complete lack of appreciation for his interpretation of what the subject of the mural would be. He didn’t want to do it in the first place. Rockefeller knew what was going to be put up on the wall. Understandably Rockefeller did not want to offend anyone by Lenin’s portrait but Rivera was willing to alter the opposing side to show a unification. The mural was in no way combative or aggressive. It may have offended and gotten the attention of people but the spectacle would soon be extinguished once it’s interpretation was explained. Rockefeller could have at least given it a chance.

  4. No one has the right to destroy the art, except the creator of the art. Case in point, the rip off Frank Stella in the Judy Baily theatre that has been rumored to be Stella’s work. Now we find out it isn’t. Stella has demanded that it be removed and destroyed. What a joke! He has no right to claim that we destroy the work. It isn’t his. If it was his I could see the argument that he created it, therefore he can destroy it, however even in that circumstance its not his it is now the universities.

    What a joke. The destruction of artwork that isn’t pleasurable. We wouldn’t have any left if any Tom, Dick, and Nancy, could say “its offensive,” remove it! The only thing that should be aloud to destroy artwork is time and Mother Nature.

  5. although the image of lenin might have seem controversial, the mural was not about him nor was it the message being portrayed. i remember seeing one of rivera’s murals when i was four or five. my family and i where going to a museum in mexico and we where at this long line that went up lots of stairs. i remember looking up at this amazing mural, so full of life and color. the figures seemed to be in action, you could tell the passion and fury in their eyes and heart, it was about the mexican revolution. i have no idea what we saw at that exhibit, but i have never forgotten that mural, the stairs we went up or the feeling of awe that came over me. i was so little at the time i didn’t know what they where fighting for, all i remember was the actions and colors and the magnitude of the piece. rivera’s work was not just political but also about the art, figures, colors, actions, etc. rockefeller had no right to destroy a piece that he had approved because he was affraid of the gossip, the mural was not about comunism but about the future and wether rockefeller liked it or not, lenin helped shape that future. by him focusing on only one character, it didn’t allow him to see the rest of the piece and appreciate the work that rivera was bringing to life. maybe rockefeller should have looked through the eyes of a little five year old to realize the great mistake he had made.

  6. I personally think that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had no right at all the destroy the piece, especially since they had approved all of Riveras sketches. He knew exactly what Rivera was going to be painting, so I do not understand why he would suddenly have a problem with it right before Rivera completes the piece. I also don’t see why Rockefeller didn’t just try and reach some kind of compromise or allow Rivera to buy the piece back. Rivera attempted to reach a compromise about the work, but Rockefeller did not want to hear of it. Rivera kept the family in the loop, got all the sketches approved and signed, and was very straight – forward with the Rockefellers. Rivera was the only one who had the right to destroy his work.

  7. I do not think Rockefeller knew exactly what Rivera was going to paint, but he should have before letting Rivera start painting. I think there should have been a model made so that no time and effort would end up being wasted in a piece to be destroyed. The artist and the commissioner need to be able to work together. Some people think it is censorship that he tore it down, well, if someone came in your house and painted a huge pornagraphic scene on your wall and you did not like it, would you want people to come in your house and see it? I would not, I would want it removed. Censorship is when you block other’s people’s eyes, but when you’ve seen it, don’t like it, and remove it from your own sight, is it wrong? Is it wrong to censor yourself? Rivera had painted on rockefeller’s building, so who is to fully say who has the rights to the work, it belonged to both, it needed to be considered by both. Don’t forget, it was not Rivera who tried to compromise, it was Rockefeller.

  8. When Rivera painted the face of Leon, he was expressing ideas and thoughts that he had, that some many not have understood. Rockefeller was probably looking out for himself and did not want bad publicity surrounding his new building. Rockefeller explained he didn’t really like Rivera’s work much as well. So, he probably didn’t see much harm in getting rid of it at Rivera’s request. I do not see it as a form of censorship, more like a difference of opinion. I do like Rivera’s answer. He wanted to work with Rockefeller but since the problem could not be solved, Rivera wanted it destroyed. I think his is a noble idea. Rivera knew all the time and work he put into the mural. But if his true thoughts and interruption could not be expressed, one could not just be worthy to receive just a little bit. It was either all or nothing.

  9. It was wrong of Rockefeller to destroy the piece, but the destruction is futile. A piece will never be totally be destroyed because it will always be discussed in art history classes and hopefully other venues as well. It is a tragedy that we cannot view it in person however. The subject matter of a work is for the artist’s discretion and it is up to the viewer to determine its offense. And if the viewer does not appreciate the piece, they may walk away and not enter the space again, and for those who appreciate the piece, they may basque in revelry. Rivera’s piece is in no way controversial in my mind because it depicts an actual person and event. Why destroy the past? Why censor anything that may help us learn or remember or feel?

  10. Man at the Crossroads Looking With Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future…the title itself is not without a sense of irony. Rockefeller brought the situation on himself choosing such a topic, and the results should not have been surprising. A friend of mine is actually from Mexico City, and she’s seen quite of few of Rivera’s murals in person, remarked to me how the RCA painting out of all is in fact her favorite Rivera mural. The mural seems to have lived beyond the wall that it was chipped away from for an everlasting effect on people, contrary to the wants of Rockefeller. Initially he wanted a unique vision but, like any person that affiliates themselves with “fashionable society,” he buckled under social pressures irregardless of common sense. Rockefeller himself could not stand at the crossroads with hope and vision for what the piece would become. Future becomes what it will with or without intervention. Rivera’s inclusion of Lenin was no new addition that went without approval and should’ve been left up despite public qualms. The general populous objects to everything meant to inspire change. It is our American tradition to hate that which isn’t accepted by conservative society until it gains notoriety elsewhere. I am reminded of the similar case with Robert Frank’s The Americans. Endowment for the arts is encouraged in America only when censorship can be exercised by the “Good Ole’ Boy Club” when objections arise to the nature of a piece. The mural was destroyed but not without being captured photographically, which gave America quite a backlash that has lasted decades. Its destruction exposed the ugly side of America and divided people even moreso when the Lenin portrait being depicted hand-in-hand with other individuals was meant to inspire hope and togetherness. It is always evident and such cases, what future America “Chooses.” We are such a young country, and constantly reminded of that fact.

  11. The deconstruction of Diego Rivera’s work is disheartening. Rockefeller Jr., have to of had some idea about what the final mural was going to look like. He hired Rivera knowing full well what direction his art tended to take. It was almost as if Rockefeller got spooked and didn’t want to cause any controversy. If Rockefeller wanted something very specific, he should have made that decision in the beginning prior to the construction of the mural. It is unfortunate that Rockefeller could not come to an agreement with Rivera.

  12. Mystery of the Lenin statue solved!

    A reliable source of mine has informed me that the statue is a brand new one! The old statue with the head was completely removed. The company made a brand new statue with the head missing.

  13. I feel that the real tragedy here is Rockefeller trying to masquerade as someone who appreciates fine contemporary art when he even admitted to not liking Rivera’s work to begin with. Obviously he just had some list of influential artists in his mind and had been forced to settle with a choice he didn’t even like. It’s no wonder that in the end, it was so easy for him to destroy Rivera’s mural. To Rockefeller it was not a work of art, but really just a piece of property and decoration. This feeling is the same that the architect of the building had. Rivera did not want to comform to Rockefeller’s demands because then he would be conceding to their idea that art is just a decoration or adornment.
    I feel that the debate on the destruction of the mural has way too many grey areas for me. On one hand, you have to ask yourself from a business point of view if the mural was property of Rockefeller, in which case he has every right to destroy the painting. It’s in the same way as if someone buys a car or a home. That person has every right to change the car or the house to suit their tastes, even if it means distruction. But there in lies the problem, just because it is a right doesn’t mean that it is morally correct. The mural, and other art pieces, stand in that grey area of intellectual property and phsyical property. The mural was a creation of Rivera’s creativity and intellect and can never be accurately recreated. The destruction is very sad indeed, but it was within Rockefeller’s right.

  14. Rockefeller had every right to destroy the piece. He commissioned Rivera to create him a mural. Once Rivera was paid he had been lucky enough to be given open range to create something. Yet he was reluctant to modify his ways when Rockefeller didn’t agree with the direction. Rockefeller could have let Rivera complete the work and place it in a different location instead of physically destroying it. However, if Rockefeller was to keep the Man at the Crossroads Looking With Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future? and placed it in another room he would have still destroyed it but not physically. Rivera created the work for him for the lobby of Rockefeller Center making it a site specific mural. Placing it another room might have aesthetically pleasing to those who would have passed it but the artist would have known the murals vibrancy and meaning could not be recreated.

  15. Diego Rivera painted a mural, and Rockefeller tore it down before it was completed. Rockefeller had no right to tear down Diego Rivera’s mural, even if it depicted Lenin, and may have been seen by some as pro-communist art. Rockefeller should have gained more knowledge into what Rivera’s plans were or at least supervised the project closer. It’s a complete waste of time to let the mural go as far as it did and then to tear it down, not to mention, it’s not fair to Rivera either. Rivera shouldn’t have to suffer for Rockefeller’s ignorance.

  16. It seems that Rivera was paid in full, therefore the work “belonged” to Rockefeller and he had the right to do anything he wanted. With that said, considering he knew the content of the mural and approved it, I think it was…I’m not sure of the right word, but unprofessional, insensative, and low come to mind. I think it was wrong to tear the mural down, despite the fact they were well within their rights. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind but, the whole thing seemed kinda dirty, and I would have been bitter too, if I was in Riveria’s position. I don’t think this constitute’s cencorship. I think it is as simple as a company/organization controlling it’s image, in the same way they would dictate the imagery going into their ad campaigns. The content of that mural was tied to public perception of the Rockefeller’s and if they ultimately decided that they didn’t like the way it represented them, then there was nothing wrong with changing it. Ultimately, the fact that they approved the imagery, and then went back on it without much explanation, again, seems unprofessional.

  17. Censorship of a piece of art is probably the worst thing that could ever happen to it and Rivera chose to let his mural be destroyed rather than censor it, even though the mural was probably very personal to him and he put a lot of work into it. This brings up the issue of artistic integrity which is what I think separates a real artist from one who is not.

  18. It is censorship. By destroying it the right to interpret the artwork by the audience is taken away. The public is robbed the right to enjoy the artwork for other qualities besides it’s content. It’s not like seeing this painting is going to convert everyone into communists. When i see a painting of baby Jesus it doesn’t make me want to go to church. But i do enjoy viewing the work for its beauty, the artists technique and it’s message.

  19. To answer the question is this action a form of censorship, the answer would have to be yes. Is it a tradgedy that the work was destroyrd before it was finished, again the answer is yes. However, this was a work for hire. The buyer had a right to destroy the work that they paid for. After all, it was their business and reputation that was also on display and they did not want to be associated with communism. This is also the time of the red scare when the populace of society did not look favorable on non democratic views.

  20. I most certainly think that it was wrong of Rockefeller to destroy a piece of art that might have meant a great deal to the artist. I uderstand that Diego Rivera’s was hired by Rockefeller to create a piece of art on a mural and that this mural was Rockefeller’s property. Rockefeller does have the right to disasemble of anything and get rid of it.

    Because after all it is somebody elses property which is, Mr. Rockefeller. But then again why hire someone to put great meaning on a wall and then later on decide that they don’t want it anymore. In that case I feel that the owner should think twice before they decide to hire someone that could be about to portray some important image on a wall that could have a vast meaning to a certain individual. Indeed it was Rockeller’s descion to destroy the work of art. But also not necesary to tear it apart like nothing.

  21. What a great tragedy for and artwork so beautiful and worked on for so long to be destroyed. It just goes to show that when it comes down to it, art really is a business. Legality of ownership will always preside over who actually created it. Do I think that Rockefeller’s choice was censorship though? Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor. Seeing as the RCA bulding was privately owned by Rockefeller, and not owned by the government I would say no. If someone painted something on your property that you did not like and you painted over it…I would not say you are censoring yourself. The thing that really gets me about this whole discussion is that I still don’t understand why Rockefeller agreed to have the mural painted in the first place. The Rockefellers were strong believers in capitalism, and yet Rivera’s work is obviously against capitalism…he was painting a communist piece on the very wall that was paying him money through the success of capitalism. Funny isn’t it? Tte Rockefeller’s should have been paying more attention from the very start…I personally think that they didn’t. If the patrons truly understood what the work was about from the beginning, I don’t think they would have had it painted in the first place.

  22. I believe the destruction of Rivera’s mural by Rockefeller was a difference of opinion between two parties under a legal agreement. As the paying customer, Rockefeller had a say on the theme for the mural, and on the subject portrayed. He paid for the work, so he destroyed his own property. That said, this was a shitty way of treating a respected artist and professional, a fair insult. He should have allowed Rivera the option to finish the work, so as to find an alternate owner for it. Proper documentation of the piece should have been allowed as well. If Rivera’s assistant hadn’t acted so quickly, nothing of the original mural should have remained. I’m glad Rivera took the time to recreate it later on.
    In the end, Rockefeller requested the artist, so he shouldn’t have been surprised by the work produced. I don’t believe he took the personal interest in the artist’s previous work as he should have. if he had, he wouldn’t have found himself in the position he did.

  23. I wonder what would happen today. I wonder if Diego Rivera could sue him and charge him in removal of the painting even though it is on Rockefeller’s property? After all Diego Rivera did show him sketches and it is Rockefeller who chose to have his assistant represent him in the meetings. I think it is unfortunate that the mural had to be destroyed, and this is an experience that I think all artists should learn from in writing contracts and educating our selves with the unfortunate tribulations that can happen. I do think Diego’s ideas were suppressed however, it is not a public building, therefore I do not think is censorship in the fact that Rockefeller owns the building and he has the right to display what art he chooses. I do not agree with Rockefeller’s solution but were do we draw the line in telling people what they can and not display on their own property?

  24. In some ways, I see it as censorship but it was a piece commissioned by Rockefeller. Diego Rivera did not follow the guidelines, therefore he in a way got fired from the job. With this said, Rivera was held back from sharing his views with the world and that was wrong. Rockefeller should have taken the time to understand the work and see if he wanted to go in a new direction. It was not right to just destroy the work.

  25. It was highly irresponsible for Rivera to include Lenin in the mural. Rivera proposed many sketches to the Rockefellers in which Lenin’s face was NOT included, but rather a faceless leader. On May 4th, 1933, when Nelson Rockefeller discovered that Lenin had been added to the mural, he wrote a letter to Rivera in which he stated, “This piece is beautifully painted but it seems to me that his portrait, appearing in this mural, might very easily offend a great many people….As much as I dislike to do so I am afraid we must ask you to substitute the face of some unknown man where Lenin’s face now appears.” The purpose of the sketches was to ensure that the Rockefeller’s would appreciate the finished mural. Rivera was paid his full $21,000 BEFORE the mural was destroyed. Rockefeller has the property rights to do as he pleases with the mural, and it was not censorship, in my opinion. Rivera had a very fair opportunity to exercise his rights as an artist (referring to freedom of expression, etc) in the preliminary sketches he proposed to the Rockefeller’s. Instead, he used a faceless leader to trick Nelson Rockefeller into approving the mural. The Rockefellers tried to compromise with Rivera but he refused, and Rivera is lucky that he even got the CHANCE to compromise because his mural was NOT what he depicted in the various sketches.

  26. Certainly Rockefeller had the legal right to destroy the mural, but I can’t imagine any intelligent person doing so. Rockefeller’s action deeply saddens me. What a loss to the world. A unique and beautiful perspective on history was destroyed.

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