“I paint what I see,” said Rivera.


Diego Rivera.

Crain’s is reporting on a $40 million dollar unrestricted gift to the Museum of Modern Art in New York from Illinois’ richest man, Ken Griffin.

This follows Griffin’s donation to the presidential campaign of Marco Rubio.

Like most men of obscene wealth, Griffin contributes money to both sides of the aisle. He is a friend of Democrats and Republicans. Rahm and Rauner.

And he prides himself on buying contemporary  art and donating millions of his billions to museums like Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Whitney in New York.

Crain’s says the lobby of the Whitney is named for Griffin. He might be sad to know that when we visited the new Whitney this past October, we never noticed his name.

Or maybe he wouldn’t care.

I love visiting the Museum of Modern Art. Last year we saw a retrospective of Matisse collages.

I wonder if Griffin knows or cares that many of the paintings in MoMA’s collection were created by artists who had no regard for people with tons of money.

In 1931, MoMA held a retrospective exhibit of the work of the great Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. It was only the second retrospective they had organized.

Rivera was not one to be intimidated by million dollar patrons.

In 1933 Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural for Rockefeller Center by  Nelson Rockefeller, a Ken Griffin of his day.

The mural did not turn out quite the way Rockefeller planned.

The author of Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White, wrote a poem about the event.

A Ballad of Artistic Integrity

What do you paint when you paint on a wall?
Said John D’s grandson, Nelson.
Do you paint just anything at all?
Will there be any doves, or a tree in fall?
Or a hunting scene, like an English ball?

“I paint what I see,” said Rivera.

What are the colors you use when you paint?
Said John D’s grandson, Nelson.
Do you use any red in the heart of a saint?
If you do, is it terribly red, or faint?
Do you use any blue? Is it Prussian?

“I paint what I paint,” said Rivera.

Whose is that head that I see in my wall?
Said John D’s grandson Nelson.
Is it anyone’s head whom we know, at all?
If you do, is it terribly red or faint?
A Rensselaer, or a Saltonstall?
Is it Franklin D? Is it Mordaunt Hall?
Or is it the head of a Russian?

“I paint what I think,” said Rivera.

I paint what I paint, I paint what I see,
I paint what I think, said Rivera
And the thing that is dearest in life to me
In a bourgeois hall is Integrity;
I’ll take out a couple of people drinkin’
And put in a picture of Abraham Lincoln;
I could even give you McCormick’s reaper
And still not make my art much cheaper
But the head of Lenin has got to stay!
Or my friends will give the bird today,
The bird, the bird, forever.

It’s not good taste in a man like me,
Said John D’s grandson, Nelson.
To question an artist’s integrity
Or mention a practical thing like a fee,
But I know what I like to a large degree,
Tho art I hate to hamper.
For twenty-one thousand conservative bucks
You painted a radical. I say, shucks,
I could never rent the offices-
The capitalistic offices.
For this, as you know, is a public hall.
And people want doves, or a tree in fall,
And tho your art I dislike to hamper,
I owe a little to God and Gramper.

And after all,
It’s my wall…

“We’ll see if it is,” said Rivera.

Activist and artist Ellen Gradman and I will have a show of our art work in February with an opening reception February 12th from 6PM to 10PM. The Uri-Eichen Gallery is located at 2021 S. Halsted. The reception will include spoken word poetry and music by 4 1/2 Seconds of Reverb, a band made up of CPS teachers.

2 Replies to ““I paint what I see,” said Rivera.”

    1. You are a master of taking something complex and reducing it to something simple but without the problems inherent in complexity.

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