Catha Paquette, an assistant professor of art at CSULB, has been awarded a $40,000 Getty Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Arts and Humanities to support a year's research and writing on her book The Dynamics of Power in Art Patronage, Production and Censorship: Diego Rivera at Rockefeller Center, 1932-1934.
Paquette's research will explore the historic confrontation between famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera and millionaire patriarch John D. Rockefeller Jr., over Rivera's controversial mural for the RCA Building in New York's Rockefeller Center.
"Rivera produced a sketch of his planned mural in 1932 and the Rockefellers approved that sketch," explained Paquette, who received Faculty Scholarly and Creative Activity Awards in 2005 and 2006 to write the first chapters of her book on this subject. "But when Rivera began painting in April 1933, he inserted into the mural a portrait of Lenin. The Rockefellers released him from the project, covered the mural and grappled for nine months with what to do with it."
In December 1933, a transfer of the mural to New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was contemplated but never took place. In February1934, the original Rivera mural was destroyed, but later that year, the artist went on to produce another version in Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts.
Since its inception in 1984, the Getty Foundation has awarded more than $240 million to support more than 4,000 projects in more than 175 countries. Grants like Paquette's are meant to reflect the foundation's mission to promote the understanding and preservation of the visual arts.
"I am very excited to receive this grant because it gives me the chance to complete my manuscript. And the subject is an intriguing one. Lots of questions about the mural controversy remain to be answered," Paquette said. "Who decided to hire Rivera in the fall of 1932? Why did the artist modify his original sketch and insert the portrait of Lenin in April 1933? Why was the mural not transferred to MoMA? What role did John D. Rockefeller Jr. play in hiring Rivera and destroying the mural? What political, economic and social pressures came to bear in Rockefeller's and Rivera's decisions? There has never been an in-depth analysis until now to contextualize all the actions they took."
Paquette seeks to demonstrate that the overall aesthetic program for Rockefeller Center was political in every sense of the word. "Rockefeller never acknowledged this was the case," she said. "Even decades later, there is a common perception that the Rockefellers gave Rivera a great opportunity to create a mural and he blew it. He messed things up by getting political. What is important in my research is to show that art patrons use patronage for political purposes. In fact, both Rockefeller and Rivera were making use of art to address critical Depression-era issues that were of international significance, such as relations between corporate management and labor, capitalists and their critics, and the United States and other nations, including Mexico, other nations in Latin America and the Soviet Union."
Also, Paquette feels certain she can demonstrate that Rockefeller was deeply involved in the decision to destroy Rivera's mural. "There is a tendency to let Rockefeller off the hook and absolve him of any responsibility for the mural's destruction. I believe that it is important not only to show he was involved in the decision but also to make his actions understandable in terms of his era," she noted. "Both sets of actions, those by both Rockefeller and Rivera, are understandable in the context of their times. I want to look at what shaped each action taken over the three-year period."
Paquette has a long record of activity relating to Latin American art, including the coordination of the 2005 visit of Mexican artist José Luis Cuevas to Cal State Long Beach and his participation in the Art Department's Visiting Artist Program.
The Getty grant is especially useful for junior scholars, she believes. "Many doctoral students complete a tremendous amount of research in writing their dissertations, and in the early years of their careers they have a substantial amount of material to write about," she said. "Grants like this make publication of this material possible. The sooner junior scholars have the opportunity to develop their materials, the better."