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Man, Controller of The Universe by Diego Rivera

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The man at the Crossroads was destroyed and never publicly seen, 10 months later he recreated the painting and renamed it Man, Controller of the Universe and is one of Diego Rivera’s most infamous controversial pieces of art. Man at the Crossroads was originally created for RCA Building in Rockefeller Center in New York. This original mural contained the portrait of Communist leader Lenin and Nelson A. Rockefeller asked him to remove him from the mural due to the growing controversy it was getting. When Diego Rivera refused to take the portrait down, Rockefeller had the mural covered up and it was later destroyed.

Thankfully, Diego had asked his assistant to take pictures of the original mural and he later reproduced the fresco mural naming it Man, Controller of the Universe. This mural stands 15 ft and 11 inches tall by 37 feet and 6 inches wide in Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City. Rivera used fresco to do this mural because it is one of the “most preferred mediums for wall painting,” especially when working with fresh plastered walls that allow the colors to sink into the surface allowing them to become vibrant. During this time, there was a lot of political and economic turmoil taking place. Rivera seemed to focus on the political factors affecting the nations both in the United States and Soviet Union. Here the man in the middle seems to be caught in the turmoil of politics of two very distinct political values, on the left it has capitalism and on the right, it has communism. The man in the middle seems to have his political identity in question due to the political values depicted in this psychedelic type of painting.

Two formal elements used by Diego Rivera in this painting are the focal point and symmetrical balance. Even though this painting may seem chaotic at first, Rivera had the intention to make the man in the middle the main focal point of this painting. When you look at the picture you see the man sitting under this giant machine and surrounded by various scenes. One could say that he is surrounded by this turbulence of thoughts that give him that anxious expression. It seems like he is in a tough dilemma over these thoughts that seem to bother him during work. As the viewer starts moving their eyes away from the focal point one can see the hand at bottom is giving a sort of control to the man and allowing him to see the world around him. The two ellipses surrounding him in this type of crossroads show the microbial world and the cosmic world. As the viewer moves further away from the focal point, Rivera used symmetrical balance. Rivera used this kind of balance to compare both political ideologies pothering the man. Due to his expression, he is in a political dilemma of his identity.

At this time during the 1930s, a lot of prevalent events led to Rivera to create this painting. During this time, fascism was on the rise in Europe, the recession hit worldwide, and there was a worldwide economic depression and unemployment was high as well. Due to these circumstances, the world looked upon capitalism to blame for these problems. It seems like the man in the middle is a representation of Rivera at this time, as he had conflicting thoughts and ideas that there could be a system out there that was better than capitalism but did not have the corruptness of a communist leader.

The symmetrical balance in this painting allows the comparison of both ideologies This symmetrical balance can be seen at the top of both ellipses both groups seem to be looking at each other. On the left side are soldiers of the war, while on the right side are communists marching in the glory of the Russian Revolution. You can then see balance again as the two white statues are placed at almost identical spots facing each other, even though one of them is beheaded. Further down on both sides of this painting symmetrical balance is seen as the people on both sides that are seated are looking up through these giant magnifying glasses as if almost putting the man in the middle of the spotlight, asking what ideology he thinks is best. If this painting would be able to be folded over, one can see that this symmetrical balance allows the viewer to see the comparison or critique of these two different ideologies. Having the man in the middle allows the viewer to know that Rivera has felt this way and has compared these political views to find his own political identity, as he is the one who gets to choose. Rivera is saying that their own person is the one that can choose their own political identity as he or she is the one in control of his or her own world.

The last formal element used in this painting, but not too prevalent is color. Color differences are seen through the communist side as mostly red is being used to represent this political identity. Other than that, the colors used in this painting are mostly neutral except for the red and in the ellipses, the colors of these micro and macro worlds seem a lot brighter. This could be depicted to demonstrate that the man is just one small piece of this world, as there are other giant worlds around us, such as the cosmic world. This allows the man to feel a small sense of relief that his political identity might not be such a big deal, as humans are just a small part of a huge world surrounding us. When looking at this painting the colors are not so bright that it distracts the viewer, the colors used are more neutral to allow the viewer to see that the man is trying to sort out the world around him, seeing all the chaos of evil and good around and trying to decide what political identity he will be part of.

During this time, Diego Rivera had a lot of reason to believe that there could be other ideologies other than capitalism and communism that could make things better around him. In a way, he critiqued both the communist and capitalist states in this painting. On the capitalist side at the top right you can see an army at war, he depicts the violence that was prevalent in World War I. He depicted the brutality that capitalism brought to World War I, such as the use of dangerous and devastating technology such as poisonous gas, warplanes, weapons, and tanks. On the other hand, the communist side has the lower-class workers marching and wearing red to represent socialism. Here he has them peacefully and unifying together and glorying the Russian Revolution. These two events are completely opposite of each other. One is condemning war and destruction, while the other one is glorifying the revolution of their country in a peaceful manner. Here one can sense the different political identities that they both possess and how they feel they need to show it, one uses destruction to show their political power while the other unifies people. Below these two scenes, there are two statues, the statue on the left side on the capitalist side is believed to be Zeus, a Greek god, wearing a cross around his neck. On the communist side, a headless statue, which is believed to be Caesar, is posed and brandishing a swastika, the sign of Nazi Germany. Here both religion and Nazi beliefs are depicted because, during this time Nazism was increasing after Hitler took over yet, religion was the center of attention to many people during the Great Depression due to the loss of jobs and hope. Both depictions of these broken statues, seem to show that the Western ideas that were taken from the classical age are crumbling, just like capitalism seems to be crumbling during this time, as it is seen as the main cause for the worldwide economic problems, unemployment, and deprivation. The beheading of Caesar represents the fall of fascism in Europe and the new popularity of communism rising.

This is a representation of the fall of fascism during this time and the great increase of Europe’s new way of thinking which was communism. Here both political identities are compared again by the man in the middle, and it almost seems like he feels capitalism is not the answer.

As the viewer moves down many influential figures are shown. On the side of the capitalist world, Darwin appears, representing the evolution of science and technology becoming part of capitalism. Here you can tell that capitalism is focused on the progress of higher technology and knowledge in science and the modern world. On the other hand, you have various other important figures on the communist side such as Leon Trotsky, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx, and Bertram D. Wolfe. Here the figures come together to make a call for the unification for world-class wage earners. They stand in solidarity holding a sign up to bring workers together as they want improvement for the working class. The most similar thing about both sides is that on the lower left-hand corner a group of racially mixed students of people is sitting together and getting an education, while on the other side Vladimir Lenin appears shaking the hands of racially mixed Union workers. Here both sides are shown to have a bright side, as capitalism allows people to flourish and improve through education and hard work, while on the communist community lower class Union workers are the main concern. This mixing of races allows the central figure to forget about racism and depict everyone as equal. Again, the man’s political identity is put into question as the people sitting on both sides are looking up at him through the lenses as if he must decide on his political identity.

Finally, through the ellipses that array from the figure in the middle, the cosmos and the micro worlds are shown around him as if surrounding humans. One thing that is different is that on the communist side the ellipses seem more chaotic, but at the same time peaceful. The colors used are more of a neutral tone, but the ellipses seem to be filled with a lot of imagery within them. On the other hand, the top left ellipses on the capitalist side seem chaotic and it is believed to represent syphilis. One belief is that since it is right above John D. Rockefeller who is shown to be drinking with his girlfriend, it is a sort of revenge that Diego Rivera thought he would incorporate in his painting as he was the one who destroyed his original piece, Man at the Crossroads. Another popular belief is that Rivera purposely places syphilis on the side of capitalism as to show that capitalism is an infection that just makes everyone worse. One point to agree on was that it is an infection because only the wealthy benefit from capitalism as they in a way, feed on the low-class workers. This is also seen as the people in the higher social class between the two left ellipses are seen drinking and partying without a care of what the lower-class citizens are suffering. The suffering is seen right next to that scene as you see workers protesting as policemen are trying to stop them.

Capitalism overall is being criticized a lot in this painting. This is where the man comes into a crossroads of what political ideology he should follow, the one he used to believe in and all of society around him is telling him to believe in or to the new communist ideas that do not seem so bad as they are depicted in this painting. Diego Rivera was a communist and the fact that he depicted capitalism as an infection and worse than communism was showing his true feelings through his art. He is the man in the middle, criticizing the chaotic world around him.

Both political ideologies have a good and a bad side to them and they are shown in this artwork, but mostly capitalism’s dark sides are shown. This is a point of view from Diego Rivera’s political identity.

Works Cited

  1. Harris, James C O. ‘Diego Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads.’ Archives of General Psychiatry 69.4 (2012): 337-338. 17 5 2019.

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