SFMOMA says that City College of San Francisco hasn't ponied up their share of the cash to move Diego Rivera's enormous 'Pan-American Unity' mural back across town. City College now says that they can't be blamed for the museum's "financial mismanagement."
Two San Francisco nonprofit institutions — which are both under some financial strain — are at odds over a gargantuan, very hard-to-move mural that is worth an untold sum of money, which one lent to the other two years ago. Now, via a lawsuit filed last month, according to SFMOMA, City College doesn't seem to be in any hurry to take back the 1940 piece — which artist Diego Rivera came to San Francisco to paint for a world's fair on Treasure Island, and which has lived in the hallway of a theater at CCSF since 1961.
The 30-ton, 74-foot-wide, 1,600-square-foot mural, which consists of 10 highly delicate fresco panels, was moved via custom truck across the city at great expense in June 2021, in order that it could serve as the centerpiece of SFMOMA's Diego Rivera retrospective, which closed early this year.
The mural was scheduled to be moved back to CCSF in "early 2024," according to the suit, but SFMOMA says that it has spent $4.5 million to date on the project, and that under its originally agreement, CCSF is responsible for the remaining cost to move the mural back across town, estimated at $2.1 million.
SFMOMA says it had agreed to spend $3.975 million to borrow the artwork, and it does not expect CCSF to cover the overage spent to date. But the museum claims that the school had agreed to cover the remaining cost take back and store the piece.
City College has now filed a counter-claim, and it seems to be saying that it doesn't have to pay this moving expense, which is confusing.
"Under the terms of the agreement, SFMOMA agreed to dedicate a total budget of $3.975 million dollars for the loan of the artwork, of which $1,000,000 was to be reserved for the de-installation and return of the mural to the College by September 1, 2023," the college says in a release. "The agreement further stipulates that if SFMOMA cannot return the artwork as agreed upon, it must amend the agreement in writing."
The college is alleging that SFMOMA blew its deadline, and spent budget money meant for the moving expense on other things. CCSF further takes umbrage at the fact that SFMOMA's complaint suggests that the school dip into the $845 million in bond funding that it has for building expenses, since the mural is set to be part of a new theater to be completed in 2026.
"SFMOMA also suggested the College tap into its $181.3 million in San Francisco taxpayer bond funds, which can only be used for the construction of new educational facilities, to compensate for the world-renowned museum's financial mismanagement," the release states.
It's not clear why the college is only referring to $181.3 million, when the bond approved in March 2020 was for $845 million, earmarked for "repair and retrofit [of] decaying City College facilities."
The museum's contention seems to be that City College would be perfectly happy to have the museum continue to store the mural for them until they have somewhere to put it, three years from now. But CCSF is citing this deadline issue, and the budget issue, and says it is "deeply disappointed" to have to file the counter claim. According to the college, the museum was going to cover the entire bill — but someone has to be in the wrong here.
Now, neither institution can really afford to be wasting too much money on lawyers. CCSF has been financially struggling and facing declining enrollment in recent years — which bubbles up as drama over certain classes being cut every year or so. The school was placed on "enhanced monitoring" status in the fall of 2020 by the state accreditation board, due to its financial woes.
SFMOMA, meanwhile, announced layoffs earlier this week, citing a 35% decline in attendance at the museum. Seven staffers were let go, and 13 other open positions were eliminated, in a budget-cutting measure.
The mural in question, which depicts San Francisco and the Bay, remains one of the most spectacular pieces of Rivera's career — and it far upstaged much of the other work in that retrospective. It is still on view, for free, in the Howard Street lobby of SFMOMA, and is scheduled to stay there through January 2024 — after which the museum says it has "other commitments" for that gallery space.
Go see it while you can, because, at best, it is soon going to be hidden away for at least the next three years.