Thursday, February 27, 2020

Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals by Luis-Martín Lozano and Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera

Finally, a definitive fresco-spective catalogue
The German publisher Taschen is known for its lavish art books, and they have truly outdone themselves with Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals. This book was originally published in 2008, but I am reviewing the 2019 edition, and I’m not sure what if any changes were made between editions. Buying a used copy of the out-of-print first edition would cost you hundreds of dollars, but this re-release is surprisingly affordable for its mammoth size (roughly 10 x 15 inches and 10 pounds), especially when Amazon is selling it at under half of Taschen’s list price.

Prior to this book, the most comprehensive guide to Rivera’s murals was Diego Rivera: A Retrospective by Linda Bank Downs, et al., an excellent book that covers all aspects of Rivera’s life and career, including an admirably extensive 98-page section on his murals. While that earlier book includes explanatory numbered diagrams of multi-panel mural schemes, The Complete Murals expands upon that strategy to a much higher level of detail by accompanying such diagrams with close-up shots of almost every panel, as well as many preparatory drawings. While a few of Rivera’s murals have been featured in in-depth, heavily illustrated studies of their own, such as Downs’s Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry Murals, The Complete Murals is the most comprehensive compendium of images and information on Rivera’s entire career as a muralist.

I’ve seen about half of Rivera’s murals in person and can attest that they have never looked better in print than they do here. The abundance of close-up details amounts to such extensive coverage that it is sure to render obsolete the photo albums of even the most obsessive of Mexico City vacationers. The clarity and color accuracy of the images is better than what you can view on the internet, and the size of the reproductions, some of which fold out to a four-page spread, may even be larger than your computer monitor. The selection of images goes beyond the frequently photographed masterpieces to include lesser-known murals that have not seen much coverage in previous books, such as Glorious Victory, Rivera’s critical commentary on U.S. intervention in Guatemala.

In addition to all its beautiful photographs, this book is also a well-researched scholarly monograph, complete with extensive notes and bibliography. The text by authors Luis-Martín Lozano and Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera is very detailed and informative (though the fact that it is set in 5-point type is unforgivably inconsiderate to the reader). Their pet topic is Rivera’s use of Masonic and Rosicrucian symbolism, a thesis that they push farther than most Rivera fans will care, but they also provide much valuable background information on the creation of Rivera’s murals. In particular, one learns a great deal about Rivera’s tempestuous relationship with the Communist party and how his murals reflect his evolving political views. Following the murals there is a brief chapter on Rivera’s easel painting, which is a subject better covered in other books, but here provides an opportunity for more beautiful illustrations. The book closes with a detailed chronology of Rivera’s life accompanied by thumbnail images of many obscure works in various media.

This book is a must-have for any lover of Mexican murals and Diego Rivera’s art, and for what you’re getting the price is more than reasonable. As far as coffee-table books go, Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals and Downs’s aforementioned Diego Rivera: A Retrospective are the two books essential to getting an authoritative visual overview of Rivera’s multifaceted career.
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