Throughout September, the Symbiartic crew have ramped up the amount of posts we're sharing, bringing you even more SciArt. It's the September SciArt Blitz! 

It's like a Labour Day fable. 

It's Labour Day here on the Symbiartic September SciArt Blitz, and few artists could be more important to what this day stands for than husband to the legendary Frida Kahlo, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Let's take a look at how science and technology appear in a famously destroyed and re-created painting.

Diego Rivera's "Man, Controller of the Universe"
Detail of the central panel from Diego Rivera's Man, Controller of the Universe mural.
Via Wikipedia, uploaded by Wolfgang Sauber.

In 1934, Nelson Rockefeller ordered the destruction of a mural he had commissioned by Diego Rivera for the Rockefeller Center. While the mural had provoked its patron's ire for being "anti-capitalist", it's notable that it depicted science at the micro and macro levels, with humanity and the worker at their center.

The original, in-progress fresco entitled, "Man at the Crossroads". The artist Diego Rivera had an assistant named Lucienne Bloch take this photo so that he could recreate the work elsewhere, once it became apparent that the original was slated for destruction.

Like Michelangelo, Rivera was painting the mural as a fresco - freshly applied pigmented plaster directly onto the wall. It wasn't the sort of thing you could pick up and move when your wealthy patron decided it emphasized the common worker too much. 

Wealthy captain of industry commissions a mural and is dissatisfied when it reflects the artists' interests instead of his own exaltation - and orders it destroyed. 

And yet, the thing about art, especially in the modern age when we can so quickly preserve an idea, is that it can be hard to destroy so long as the artist still has the willpower to see their creation borne. 

Rivera had an assistant document the progress, then created the work again in Mexico. This time with Nelson Rockefeller's father, John D. Rockefeller speaking to a woman, drink in hand, with a dish of syphilis above them. (That's the problem with pissing off artists: they can immortalize the dispute.) 

Author and poet E.B. White of Charolotte's Web fame said of the Rockefeller-Rivera dispute, in his poem I Paint What I see: 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.

The full version of Man, Controller of the Universe
The completed, re-created painting: Man, Controller of the Universe by Diego Rivera at the Palacio de Bella's Artes, Mexico City. 
Uploaded to Wikipedia by Gumr51.

The number of allegorical elements in this fresco are legion, and include Charles Darwin at the far left, at the foot of a statue of Jupiter with a broken lightning bolt, representing reason over superstition. (Oh, hey portrait of Stalin, I'm skipping you for this post.) A bizarrely phallic pipe emerges beneth the intersection of ellipses with a meaty hand holding what appears to be a bubble of cellular mitosis.

At the center is the worker, at the intersection of two ellipses of lensed light: one depicting the moon, comets and galaxies, and the other, microscopic life and organelles. The central scene is framed by the lenses themselves at either side, with a telescope above the worker, and irrigation pipe and crops below. Humanity's understanding and more importantly, humanity's toil in the realm of science makes all things possible in this scene, from gas masks to protect from chemical weapons in the top left, to the understanding of healthy agriculture at the foot. Science lies at the nucleus of our industries, shepharded by the workers.

For all those who toil in science, and in the arts, to all those willing to see their labour bring their visions to life, Happy Labour Day.