The New Yorker

Oh my.  I signed up for a subscription to the New Yorker two months ago.  Think it was a deal I couldn’t refuse, like a year for $10, or some such.  (They need to beef up the readership for the advertisers.)  But it’s a weekly that would do nicely as a monthly.  I’m already five issues behind.

The Lacuna

I am presently reading (in addition to the New Yorker and my Sunday NY Times), Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna.  The protagonist, raised in Mexico, works for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, then Lev Trotsky, who they’re housing in exile, and is there when Trotsky is assassinated.  I am now halfway through (in hardback, over 500 pages), he has moved back to the US, and WWII has just ended.

It is a slow book, rather like the Slow Food movement.  One doesn’t quickly devour it and rush off.

I grew up with Diego Rivera’s 27 murals in Detroit and became acquainted with Frida Kahlo’s work in a show, Mexico and Modern Printmaking, at the Phoenix Art Museum a few years ago.   I also saw a movie about her.  (Not so great.)

Frida is a 2002 biographical film which depicts the professional and private life of the surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. It stars Salma Hayek in her Academy Award nominated portrayal as Kahlo and Alfred Molina as her husband, Diego Rivera.

But in a trip to Mexico City, in addition to seeing The Palacio Nacional, which contains several walls of murals by Diego Rivera, entitled the “Epic of the Mexican People in their Struggle for Freedom and Independence”, I visited their house, actually two houses, one for each of them, connected by a bridge, in a style called “functionalism”.

The work caused a heated controversy in the 1930s by combining organic Mexican architecture and architectural murals with functionalism. So was the breaking of all the aesthetic paradigms of architecture in Mexico until then, to incorporate such blunt theories and thoughts as most avant-garde architects (as Le Corbusier) were developing on the European continent.

And visited Frida Kahlo’s family home, the Casa Azul, now the Museo Frida Kahlo, where they had housed Trotsky, before he bought his own house, five blocks down, where he was assassinated.  All of that makes the book more relevant to me.  (I took none of the photos.  They are all from the internet.)

Here are two of the murals in Detroit.  I love the controversy that ensued:

Many people objected to Rivera’s work when it was unveiled to the public. He painted workers of different races – white, black and brown, working side by side. The nudes in the mural were called pornographic, and one panel was labeled blasphemous by some members of the religious community. The section depicts a nativity scene where a baby is receiving a vaccination from a doctor and scientists from different countries took the place of the wise men.

A Detroit News editorial called the murals “coarse in conception … foolishly vulgar … a slander to Detroit workmen … un-American.”  The writer wanted the murals to be destroyed.

Edsel Ford, patron of the murals, never publicly responded to the outcry. He only issued a simple statement saying “I admire Rivera’s spirit. I really believe he was trying to express his idea of the spirit of Detroit.”

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5 Responses to “Readings”

  1. Will Maynez Says:

    Actually, Trotsky was assassinated at the house he moved into in March 1939 on the Avenida Viena about 5 blocks from the Casa Azul. This house is the Trotsky Museum

  2. Will Maynez Says:

    There’s a very good book out on the last years of Trotsky in Mexico entitled “Stalin’s Nemesis: the exile and murder of Leon Trotsky” (British version) or “Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary” (US version) by Bert Patenaude.

    BTW: See page 205 of Kingsolver’s book re: the Casa trotsky.

  3. Will Maynez Says:

    Our website, www., is for “Pan American Unity”, the mural Rivera was painting in San Francisco when Trotsky was finally killed. Rivera was still in Mexico and went into hiding after the first assassination attempt in May 1940 with Siqueiros among the would-be assassins.

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