San Francisco Stock Exchange

Rivera was offered $2,500 for his first commission in the United States, to paint the Luncheon Club in the San Francisco Stock Exchange . This was a relatively inexpensive fee, considering that Rivera's oil paintings were selling for $1,500 each. Despite how reasonable his fee was, Rivera was initially criticized because many local artists felt that the commission should have went to someone from San Francisco. Despite the initial hostility and resentment, Rivera's murals for the San Francisco Stock Exchange were so impressive that in the end, the murals became extremely popular. In fact, they were so popular that they were preserved and if you visit the Stock Exchange today, you will find Rivera's murals. The murals are optimistic, displaying Rivera's fascination with the technology of the city, balanced by the rural elements of life in California at that time. He described California as "a transition stage between the industrial east and primitive, backward Mexico." Rivera obtained other commissions while he was in California but none of them are as important as the contact that he made with William Valentiner, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).

Rivera Meets Valentiner

Helen Willis Moody, a famous American tennis player, who modeled for Rivera's San Francisco Stock Exchange murals, introduced Valentiner to Rivera while Rivera was working on the murals. William Valentiner, a Rembrandt collector, and enthusiastic supporter of art that would be accessible to the public, was determined to entice Rivera into creating a mural in Detroit. He believed that having a Rivera mural would elevate the DIA in the art world and create a lasting tribute to the city of Detroit.

Rivera, sensing Valentiner's interest and aware of Detroit's industrial history, quickly described his interest in industry to Valentiner, who afterwards declared, "It was a great wish of his [Rivera] to see that city [Detroit] and study its extraordinary growth. Nothing would have pleased me more than to have Rivera represented in the Detroit museumů for I had always hoped to have on my museum walls a series of frescoes by a painter of our time-since where could a building be found nowadays that would last as long as a museum."

NY: MOMA Retrospective

Before Valentiner and Rivera would have their vision for DIA realized, Rivera traveled to New York for a one-man retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). At this time, Matisse was the only other artist honored with a one-man show at the MOMA. Rivera's popularity soared in New York and the wealthiest families courted him. Abby Rockefeller, in particular developed a relationship with Rivera and Kahlo and was said to have filled their hotel room with flowers. The relationships that Rivera had with the most successful capitalists in the world were part of his complicated and often seemingly contradictory relationship with Communism.

Communism during this period was in the public eye due to Bolshevism and other international events. However the values asserted by communists were often inconsistent, and as Warren Susman notes, "Nor do we understand why, even outside America and indeed in the very heart of socialist Europe, Ford and his system-Fordismus, the Europeans often called it-was hailed in the 1920s as a major contribution to the twentieth century revolution by Marxists as imposing as Vladimir Lenin. Indeed, it was not at all unusual to find Ford's portrait hanging alongside that of Lenin in Soviet factories."

Rivera's art embodied these contradictions and therefore could be embraced (or criticized) by conservatives and liberals. Regardless of his political views, Rivera was enjoying the reception of his art in New York and was reluctant to move on to Detroit. However Valentiner had been working hard to build support for Rivera and was determined to have the muralist begin his work as soon as possible.

DIA: The Patrons

First, Valentiner easily persuaded Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, president of the Arts Commission of the City of Detroit, and member of the Industrial Design Committee of the MOMA, to support a commission for Rivera in Detroit. Valentiner was friends with Ford and encouraged his interest in art. Unlike his father, Henry, whose primary interest was developing the assembly line and exploring new methods of production, Edsel Ford also had an interest in industrial design. In fact, unbeknownst to his father, he had a design studio set-up, where he and his engineers experimented with custom-built cars.

The rest of the Arts Commission presented many objections to a Rivera commission and Valentiner was forced to work on developing more public support for Rivera's work. From February until March of 1931, Rivera's watercolors and drawings were exhibited at the DIA. The exhibit was a success and as a result, the fresco project was approved on May 26,1931. For a sum of $10,000, paid by the Edsel B. Ford fund, Rivera was to paint "some motif suggesting the development of industry" on the two largest panels on the north and south walls. While the DIA walls were being prepared for Rivera's arrival, the city experienced one of the most violent labor marches in the twentieth century.

On March 7, 1932, during the Ford Hunger March, consisting of an estimated 5,000 laid-off workers, police and guards from Ford Motor Company Rouge plant fired shots into the crowd, killing five people and injuring many others. The Communist song, "Internationale" was played for a crowd of 60,000 during the funeral march after the attack. Again, Rivera became a pawn in a larger political campaign, this time to alter public opinion of the Ford Company. Ford had just opened his first factory in Mexico and did not want labor issues to affect production, or his relationship with the Mexican government. Valentiner, eager to build on enthusiasm for Rivera's murals in Detroit, sent another letter to Rivera in New York, "begging him to come soon" .