San Francisco Art Institute Ponders Selling Diego Rivera Mural

If it happens, the sale would be contentious

San Francisco Art Institute
The San Francisco Art Institute.
Zee Jenkins/Creative Commons

Since the pandemic began, a number of high-profile spaces in the art world have explored selling work from their collections for a variety of reasons. The latest permutation of this involves an acclaimed mural that’s been in place for 90 years, though in this case the institution around it isn’t a museum or gallery. Instead, it’s the San Francisco Art Institute, which is currently facing a financial crisis and exploring a sale of a Diego Rivera mural that’s been a part of its campus since 1931.

At The Guardian, Peter Astrid-Kane has more details on the discussed sale. The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City has been described as “a provocative expression of Rivera’s politics, and an example of the elevated status the artist attributed to the industrial worker.” Rivera painted it over the course of May, 1931.

Like many institutions of higher learning right now, the San Francisco Art Institute is facing a financial crisis; in its case, its financial issues predate the pandemic. Selling the mural — valued at $50 million — would be a substantial boost for the Institute.

The potential loss of an iconic mural prompted concern from some elected officials in San Francisco, with the city’s board of supervisors expressing alarm and working to have the mural itself landmarked — something which would complicate efforts to sell it.

Whether or not the mural is sold, SFAI’s financial issues continue, and its staff has also explored the idea of creating an endowment for the mural, allowing it to stay in its current location. There are, unfortunately, few easy answers here.

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