Diego Rivera has been in and out of the news with a higher rate of frequency than we are used to over the course of the last few months. The much-anticipated reunion of Rivera’s murals at the Museum of Modern Art in New York picked up plenty of column inches, in part thanks to the exhibition’s coincidental timing with the Occupy protests that were going on in the city. Then there were his 125th birthday celebrations at the end of November and the ingenious Google Doodle that was created for the occasion that referenced his career and many of his most famous works. Well Rivera is now in danger of stealing the spotlight back from Frida Kahlo as a recently restored piece of his outdoor artwork has been unveiled in Mexico City.
Unusually for the Mexican Muralist, the work is not a mural or an oil painting, but is an integrated sculpture and fountain. Rivera’s interests extended beyond the canvas or the wall, and he was known as an avid collector of pre-Columbian pottery and indigenous folk art, and for his experiments with sculpture and architecture. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, most of these experiments can only be found in Mexico City, and as a result it is for his murals and oil paintings alone that he is widely known.
The sculpture in question was built between 1950 and 1952 as part of an overhaul of Mexico City’s municipal water system, and depicts the Aztec rain god Tlaloc lying on his back in a large pool of water 100 feet by 100 feet in size. Unfortunately the fountain fell into a state of disrepair, ironically caused in part by water damage, and for the last decade it has been closed to the public. The pool features intricate mosaics, and there were murals in another part of the complex, but both suffered as a result of lack of maintenance.
Lilia Haua from Probosque Chapultepec, an organisation that raises fund to restore Diego Rivera artwork in Mexico, said, “It’s a very special fountain. It’s one of the most important sculptures that Diego Rivera did in his life”. The work has been carefully restored, trying to stay as faithful to Rivera’s original design as possible while making the necessary changes to prevent future damage from occurring. Haua also noted that Rivera viewed water as an important social issue in Mexico at the time, and also as a spiritual issue as well, viewing it as an essential element of life. Describing the murals and mosaics, she said, “On this side we can see a beautiful wall, a beautiful painting, and he’s talking about the origin of life and the importance of the fertility. But everything is related with the importance of the water.”
The fountain originally served as a ceremonial entry point for water from the Lerma River to enter the city’s water supply. Now that the sculpture and artwork at the pumping station has been restored, Rivera’s work once again gazes over the water before it flows out across the Mexican capital.