Diego Rivera’s Enormous “Pan American Unity” Mural Is Coming To SFMOMA Next Week

Jamie Ferrell Jamie Ferrell

Diego Rivera’s Enormous “Pan American Unity” Mural Is Coming To SFMOMA Next Week

The mural will be moved temporarily from its usual location at City College of San Francisco.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and City College of San Francisco (CCSF) have collaborated on an effort to bring Diego Rivera’s famous Pan American Unity mural to SFMOMA on June 28, according to the Diego Rivera Mural Project. The museum will display this legendary mural in its Roberts Family Gallery space, which is free and unticketed. SFMOMA and CCSF began collaborating on the mural’s relocation back in 2017, in preparation for a major Diego Rivera exhibition coming to the museum in 2022.

The legendary work of Diego Rivera has a special place in San Francisco history, as he famously lived here with his then-wife Frida Kahlo for 6 months in 1930. During that time and in the following years, both artists created legendary works that are still preserved today in places around the city. One such work is Rivera’s gigantic mural, Unión de la Expresión Artistica del Norte y del Sur de este Continente, or The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on the Continent. It is more commonly known as Pan American Unity.

Diego Rivera, The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on This Continent, also known as Pan American Unity, 1940; courtesy City College of San Francisco; © Banco de México Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico City / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Image: Cultural Heritage Imaging via SFMOMA

According to a press release, Rivera painted Pan American Unity on Treasure Island in 1940 at the Golden Gate International Exhibition’s “Art In Action” exhibit, where artists work live in front of an audience. The mural measures 74 feet wide by 22 feet tall, covering a total of almost 1,800 square feet.

Rivera created the enormous mural across 10 panels so that it could be transported to a new library being built at San Francisco Junior College (now City College of San Francisco). It was scheduled to be moved after the 1940 exhibition, but World War II halted the library’s construction, so all 10 panels were then put into storage for over 2 decades. The mural eventually found a home in the lobby of CCSF’s theater in 1961, 4 years after Rivera’s death. It will be at SFMOMA starting on June 28 and until the end of next year’s Diego Rivera exhibition, which has yet to be announced.

Screenshot via SFMOMA

Pan American Unity features a large collection of symbolism and imagery from Mexico, the United States, and Canada. It is framed by an expansive panorama of the Bay Area, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and more. Rivera merged this imagery with that of pre-conquest cities on the left and imagery of industrialization on the right.

You will see imagery from Toltec and Aztec civilizations next to Hollywood movie references including The Great DictatorConfessions of a Nazi Spy and All Quiet on the Western Front. Rivera included those scenes in order to encourage the US to join forces with the Allies during WWII.

Screenshot via SFMOMA

The centerpiece of the work is a “deity” which fuses Coatlicue, the Aztec earth goddess, with a modern machine. The symbolic marriage of North and South is surrounded by dozens of figures including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Texcoco king Nezahualcóyotl, Samuel Morse, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charlie Chaplin, Frida Kahlo, and 3 self portraits of Rivera himself.


By fusing the North American continent’s mix of cultures, religions, history, politics and technology, Rivera provides a unique commentary and representation of the times that is just as relevant now as it was in 1940.

Screenshot via SFMOMA

“My mural will picture the fusion between the great past of the Latin American lands, as it is deeply rooted in the soil, and the high mechanical developments of the United States,” said Rivera of the work.

Diego Rivera’s colorful frescoes had profound influence on the Mexican and international mural movement. During his time in San Francisco, Rivera created 2 other murals in addition to Pan American Unity. The City Club in downtown SF is home to Allegory of California, which depicts Calafia, the Spirit of California. It’s located in a private stairwell that opens to the public for tours twice a month. The San Francisco Art Institute houses The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, which depicts artists painting a fresco. It’s a “fresco within a fresco,” complete with scaffolding and a self-portrait of Rivera watching the artists at work from below. You can see it at SFAI, open daily from 7am to 9pm.



Featured image: Rendering of Pan American Unity in the Roberts Family Gallery at SFMOMA. Image: courtesy SFMOMA

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