The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is suing City College of San Francisco over unpaid expenses relating to the conservation and 2021 relocation-by-truck of the massive Diego Rivera fresco titled Pan-American Unity.
The 30-ton, 74-foot-wide, 1,600-square-foot mural was painted by Rivera in 1940 for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Painted in 10 panels, the mural was first relocated into storage at City College, where it was later installed at the then-new Diego Rivera Theater in 1961.
The theater has since fallen into disrepair and a replacement is set to start construction in two years — but herein lies what may be the main issue. City College may not have anyplace to properly store the mural until 2027, when the new theater, where the mural will take center stage in a glass lobby, will permanently live. And it is going to cost $2.1 million to repeat the painstaking, five-mile-per-hour trip back across town on a truck with specially made shock-absorbers.
As the Chronicle reports, SFMOMA has filed suit saying that the original agreement it had with City College was that the museum would foot the bill for $3.9 million of an estimated total cost of $6.2 million to move the mural back and forth, and to perform conservation work and display it on a custom, 74-foot-wide steel frame in the Howard Street lobby of the museum.
The museum says it has spent $4.5 million to date, and it's not seeking to be compensated for the $600,000 overage. It only wants CCSF to pony up the money to take the mural back — and soon, because there are other commitments the museum has made for that large atrium space.
Pan-American Unity, which had languished in a dark hall of the not-often-visited college theater for 60 years, was installed at the museum in June 2021 ahead of the 2022 retrospective of Rivera's work, titled Diego Rivera's America. The popular exhibit ran through January 2023, and the mural was scheduled to be returned to the CCSF campus in "early 2024."
To date, the museum says, CCSF has not paid for any of the expenses relating to the mural.
"SFMOMA spearheaded the ambitious effort to determine how to safely extract and relocate the enormous and fragile work of art. The Museum contributed its expertise, staff, and resources and convened an international team of mechanical engineers, architects, art historians, fresco experts, conservators, and art handlers whether and how the Mural could be safely removed from the Diego Rivera Theater and transported across the city to SFMOMA," the lawsuit reads.
"SFMOMA is deeply disappointed by CCSF’s refusal to comply with the agreement that helped secure an otherwise collaborative partnership, resulting in more than 598,000 people experiencing and enjoying this magnificent work for free," the museum says in its suit.
The museum contents that CCSF "has argued that it does not have any obligation under the contract to pay the remaining expenses to ensure the mural’s safe return to the college's campus."
SFMOMA wants City College to pull $2.1 million out of the $845 million in bond funding the college has, which was approved by voters in 2020 for repairs to the college's facilities.
"CCSF also has not provided any explanation about why it cannot use bond funding that has been earmarked for the 'Diego Rivera Theater with Mural' to finance the remaining project costs," the lawsuit states.
Representatives for City College have not commented on the lawsuit.
Top image: Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico D.F./Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, via City College of San Francisco