A recent proposal to sell and move one of these paintings has led to widespread outcry from the public and San Francisco art and preservation officials. The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, painted in May 1931, has long been a jewel of SFAI, adorning their Diego Rivera Gallery, a space for students to show their work. The trompe l'oeil fresco teems with energy and action, showing all of the work that goes into painting a mural or building a city. Populated by engineers, artist assistants, sculptors, architects, and general laborers, each does their part to construct the image of the larger-than-life helmeted worker.
Rivera put his strong Communist ideals at the forefront in this fresco and in many of his other works. Here he glorifies the manual laborer as the backbone of industry and progress. His political beliefs and negative views of the exploitative forces of capitalism would cause controversy during his career and even after his death. During the Red Scare of the McCarthy era, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City was hidden from view.
Now, however, the painting is a major point of pride for SFAI. Watching over their gallery of student work, it serves as an encouraging reminder of all the hard work that goes into creating anything great, and of the importance of teamwork and community support.
Despite the fresco’s importance, recent financial difficulties, exacerbated by COVID-19, led SFAI to consider selling the piece. Valued at $50 million, the sale of the work might have revitalized the school, though many said the cost of losing the mural would have been too great. This sense of disapproval was solidified in a San Francisco Board of Supervisors vote on Tuesday, January 12. In a sweeping 11-0 tally, board members agreed to start the process of designating the mural as a landmark.