Man at the Crossroads / Man, Controller of the Universe
I really love this painting because it takes me through so many journeys in my mind.
From a passionate conversation in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City to my first year of college at Skidmore in Saratoga Springs, NY. I was studying Ancient Egyptian art in an Art History 101 class where I discovered that it takes a lot of imagination, among other things, to infer what people were thinking 3,000 years ago.
Standing in front of Diego Rivera's mural in Mexico City, my companion and i debated, what was he thinking when he painted this mural?
It was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller for the ground floor of Rockefeller Center in 1933 and was originally titled "Man at the Crossroads."
But following much controversy in the art world and publicity exclaiming the mural was anti-capitalist, Rivera fueled the flames by including a portrait of the communist leader Vladimir Lenin. Work was stopped and it was eventually destroyed, to the shock of many.
Concerned his work would be destroyed Diego Rivera had the incomplete mural photographed, and convinced the Mexican government to reproduce it on a slightly smaller scale in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, this time with a new title: "Man, Controller of the Universe".
Frustrated, perhaps the new title was a jab at Nelson Rockefeller - no longer the chooser of his own destiny, the benevolent influencer over so many workers' lives, but absurdly seeking to control the universe, and destroying art and culture.
My interpretation is that the central figure depicts Rockefeller himself, in a workman's uniform, which i see as great homage to the man. A way to show his oneness with the workers, despite his great power.
Nelson Rockefeller was disturbed by the amount of politicized publicity Diego Rivera's work generated rather than the imagery itself... and continued to be a patron of his work.
In her biography "Frida", Hayden Herrera mentions that Kahlo wrote, "one could fight against [the Rockefellers] without being stabbed in the back". (Wikipedia)
I love this work also because i feel that each and every one of us is at a crossroads between the great industrialization and unbridled consumption depicted in Diego's mural which dominated the 20th century, and the return to the awareness of our connection to Earth and her finite resources.