Murals At Rockefeller Center
Like the surrounding complex, the art at 30 Rockefeller Plaza has a rich history. A committee set up by John D. Rockefeller and his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., decided that the artworks there should have a unifying theme, New Frontiers, encompassing aspects of a modern society: science, labor, education, travel, communication, humanitarianism, finance and spirituality. Because 30 Rockefeller Plaza, near the Channel Gardens, where the Christmas tree stands every year, was considered the center’s flagship, it was to be the most elaborately decorated.
By 1933 the committee was making lists of the most talented names to consider. Initially artists like Picasso and Matisse were candidates. But they were unavailable and would have been too expensive. Sert was on the list too, along with the British painter Frank Brangwyn, who ended up creating murals for the lobby’s south corridor.
Diego Rivera was also brought on board, but his work was removed and destroyed when he refused to alter a panel glorifying Lenin. In its place, Sert created “American Progress,” one of several murals he contributed.
More than 16 feet high and 41 feet long, “American Progress” was installed in 1937 behind the information desk. An allegory for the building of contemporary America, the scene includes statues of the muses of poetry, music and dance, their arms reaching toward the men of action with laborers in the center and Abraham Lincoln, wearing a top hat, resting his hand on the shoulder of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In order to really feel the presence and and power of these works by Sert, a visit to Rockefeller Center in NYC would be the highlight of your day, I'm sure.
Every time I see these works the question sticks in my head as I'm leaving.
Why don't we seem to create works of this power and prominence today?
Don't we have a story to tell about the times in which we live, compelling and amazing as what was created years ago?