February 13, 1934
Rockefeller Center canceled its $21,000 investment in a fresco by Diego Rivera by destroying the offending mural over the week-end.
Yesterday, when the news became known, protest meetings were called and John Sloan, president of the Society of Independent Artists, urged an artists' boycott of Rockefeller Center and announced that he would never exhibit there.
"I cannot believe that either Mr. or Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. was consulted about this deplorable act", Mr. Sloan said last night. I think the matter must have got out of their hands. I don't mean to attack either of them personally when I call this destruction an outrage. It is a terrible loss for the art of today and the future.
"If this vandalism had been committed last May immediately after Rivera was dismissed from Rockefeller Center, it might have been condemned as 'art slaughter'. My verdict now is that it is premeditated 'art murder'".
The society of Independent Artists is now negotiating for space in the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center in which to hold its annual exhibition. As head of this organization, Mr. Sloan said that he would protest against its showing in Rockefeller Center. If the exhibition is held there,, he added, he would decline to submit his work. Another large show, to be called the Municipal Art Exhibition and to include some 1,200 examples of painting, sculpture and prints by artists associated with New York, is scheduled to be held in the RCA Building within a few weeks.
Maurice Becker, an artist, of 434 Lafayette Street, said last night that he had been invited to exhibit at the Municipal Art Exhibition but that he would withdraw. He said that H. J. Glintenkamp, another prospective exhibitor, had told him that he would do likewise. Mr. Becker prophesied that many more artists would follow suit when the news of the destruction became generally known.
Destroyed At Night
When tenants of the RCA Building left their offices on Saturday, the Rivera Mural was concealed under the cream-colored canvas that was put in place shortly after the noted and radical Mexican artist was dismissed last May after having refused to omit a portrait of Lenin and make other changes demanded by the Rockefeller family.
Yesterday when the tenants of the new skyscraper returned to their offices, they saw a blank wall where the Rivera painting had been. The concealing canvas had been removed about midnight on Saturday, a corps of men had hacked out the plaster containing what Rivera considered one of his most important paintings, and the resulting blank wall had been replastered.
This brief statement was given out by Rockefeller Center:
"In answer to inquiries, the following statement was authorized by Rockefeller Center, Inc.: The Rivera mural has been removed from the walls of the RCA Building and the space replastered. The removal involved the destruction of the mural".
This statement was amplified somewhat by a spokesman for Rockefeller Center who explained that some structural changes about to be made in the great hall of the building necessitated the removal of the painting. The extent of the changes he did not know, other than that a new information booth is to be built. He also denied that another artist had been selected to paint a mural to replace the Rivera work and that the wall was being prepared for this purpose. He called absolutely false a report that the destruction of the mural had taken place under the protection of police, and explained that midnight had been chosen for the work so as to cause no inconvenience to tenants.
The destruction of the painting surprised the art world because assurance had been given by spokesmen for Rockefeller Center last Spring that the mural would not be damaged.
Admirers of Rivera's work called a protest meeting to be held at the New Workers School, 51 West Fourteenth Street, next Saturday night and planned another to be held within a week. The committee in charge of the latter meeting consists of Suzanne La Follette, Mr. Sloan, Walter Pach, Ben Shahn and Bertrand D. Wolfe.
Rivera Cables Protest
Last night Mr. Wolfe, who is director of the New Workers School and Rivera's New York representative, gave out a statement cabled by Rivera from Mexico City. In it the artist said:
"The Rockefellers have destroyed my mural, but they cannot prevent me from speaking through my paintings to the workers of New York and the United States. My work was photographed despite the
prohibition of the management of Radio City and will be published in
"In destroying my paintings the Rockefellers have committed an act of cultural vandalism. There ought to be, these will yet be, a justice that prevents the assassination of human creation as of human character".
"The Rockefellers demonstrate that the system they represent is the enemy of human culture, as it is of the further advance of science and the productive powers of mankind".
"My case, which is more than personal, I leave in the hands of the American masses. They will yet take over industry and public buildings and guarantee the further development of man's productive and creative powers".
The dismissal of Rivera from Rockefeller Center last May created a furor both among his artist sympathizers and radical organizations. Rivera, who is widely regarded as one of the great living mural painters, was an active member of the Communist party and never concealed his radical views.