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'America Tropical' unveiling a major, if imperfect, photo op

October 09, 2012|By Jori Finkel
  • Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Getty Trust President James Cuno at the official unveiling of the David Alfaro Siqueiros mural "America Tropical."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Getty Trust President James Cuno at the… (Jori Finkel )

The croissants and churros were piled high. After a conservation project that took roughly 24 years and cost about $10 million to complete, David Alfaro Siqueiros’ 1932 Olvera Street mural "America Tropical" was unveiled Tuesday morning with much fanfare at an official reception.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilman Jose Huizar, El Pueblo manager Chris Espinoza, and, from the Getty, President James Cuno and conservation chief Timothy Whalen took turns speaking about the historic moment in the courtyard of an El Pueblo building nearby.

They touched on the importance of the mural as an example of free expression (it shows an eagle perched above a Mexican Indian tied to a double cross) and the benefits of persistence and diplomacy at moments when it seemed like this public-private partnership, bringing the city and the Getty together, was stalling.

Many thanks were given. So were some certificates of gratitude from the city, with Cuno holding one up for dozens of cameras.

But it was not a perfect photo op. For the same reason the mural required substantial conservation efforts — its history of being whitewashed for political reasons — it proves a rather inconvenient celebrity. TV cameramen trying to shoot the mural complained about the lighting. The mural itself looked pale, like the ghost of a painting.

Will people be disappointed when they see it in the flesh for themselves?

Getty conservation head Whalen, who stood on the platform constructed especially for the viewing of the mural, said he hoped that the public would understand: “Conservation shows both sides of the coin: the work of art is revealed, but the historical insults are still there.”

He noted that before the artist's death, Siqueiros himself expressed a desire for the work to be preserved in some state but not repainted. Besides, no color photographs of the mural, whitewashed so soon after its creation, exist. “There are a lot floating around, but they are all cooked up,” Whalen said.

The first round of viewers, which included Siqueiros family members, did not seem bothered by this limitation.

Architect Robert Siqueiros from Santa Fe (who described his connection to the painter as “my great-grandfather was his father”),  said he thought the mural was, even in its current state, powerful. “Knowing what we know about its history, I am surprised the colors are as vibrant as they are.”

Transportation executive Adolfo Siqueiros from Long Beach (who said his grandfather was the painter’s first cousin) said he had no complaints.  “I might be a little biased, but this is extremely exciting.”

His daughter Suhai, a high school student, gave the mural another sort of endorsement: She was happy to take the day off of school for it.

Visitors can access the mural's viewing platform and learn more about its history at the America Tropical Interpretive Center, 125 Paseo de la Plaza. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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