Intl. Notebook Oct 27 2010
PAINT MISBEHAVING
Censored mural making grand reappearance in downtown Los Angeles.

In 1932, during the heyday of pulp and in the midst of the Great Depression, a Mexican artist named José David Alfaro Siquieros was commissioned to paint an 18 by 80 foot mural on a wall above Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. Olvera Street at that time was a contrived copy of an idyllic Mexican village market, designed mainly to bring tourists to that part of town and help clean up L.A.’s image, which due to gangsterism and police corruption was as bad as those of places like Chicago and St. Louis. The mural’s theme was to be “Tropical America,” and when completed the piece would be partially visible from the street and would fully face City Hall.

But Siquieros was aware that all around Southern California police were breaking up union meetings, beating ethnic minorities and deporting Mexicans—even those who were American citizens—by the boxcar-load. So instead of the idealized tropical mural his benefactors expected him tounveil, he used spray paint and bold colors to create a shocking protest piece. The central figure of the mural was a Mexican or Indian man bound to a strange, double cross with an American eagle perched above, talons extended.

The piece embarrassed city fathers. It was immediately condemned and whitewashed, but not forgotten. Almost from the day of its censoring, Mexican-American activists fought to have the mural restored and now they’re getting their wish. Because of the covering of white paint, the original piece survived where it would otherwise have weathered into nothingness. Now the white paint is being cleaned off, and what remains of the original mural is set to go on display in 2012, with a digital image projected on top to fill out the colors and missing segments.

Siquieros died in 1974 after a long career and copious acclaim. One of his most enduring murals adorns one of the buildings of the UNESCO protected Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. When he wasn't paiting he found time to have many political adventures. For a time, he was forced to go into hiding because of his close links to a group that tried to assassinate Leon Trotsky. His political activities cost him numerous commissions, yet the quality and influence of the pieces he completed was undeniable, and he continued to grow in stature.

Today his art resides in places as far flung as Teheran and Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institute, which is kind of funny when you consider those two countries can agree on art but little else. But in any case, to the list of places where Siquieros has made a lasting mark, he'll be adding, almost eighty years late, L.A.’s Olvera Street.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
November 30
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
November 29
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
November 28
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
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