SFMOMA is suing City College of San Francisco over its famous Diego Rivera mural

SFMOMA is suing City College of San Francisco over its famous Diego Rivera mural

A dispute over a massive Diego Rivera mural reached court Thursday, with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art claiming in a complaint that San Francisco City College did not pay its share of the bill to transport the massive “Pan-American Unity” mural to the museum for temporary display.

The mural — one of three by the famed Mexican painter in San Francisco — was transferred to SFMOMA on loan in 2021 and has been on display in its free ground floor gallery ever since, and is scheduled to return to City College in 2024.

In the complaint filed Thursday, which was filed in San Francisco Superior Court, SFMOMA officials alleged that the college violated their contract and “reneged on its obligations…to pay the remaining expenses to ensure the mural’s safe return” to City College, museum officials said in a statement. Thursday. .

The 30-ton, 1,600-square-foot panoramic artwork was created by Rivera during the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. It was then moved to City College, where it was stored for 20 years before being installed in the foyer of the college’s Diego Rivera Theater in 1961.

Conservators prepare the edges of Diego Rivera’s “Mural of American Unity” in February 2021 for its transfer from San Francisco City College to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Created in 1940 at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island on 10 steel-framed concrete panels with layers of plaster and measuring 22 feet high and 74 feet wide, the mural is the largest single mural by the famous Mexican painter and was installed at City College in 1961. The mural was taken on temporary loan to SFMOMA.

Stephen Lamm/The Chronicle

But the theater has fallen into disrepair, and is now being replaced. The work is being paid for with money from an $845 million bond for public college repairs approved by San Francisco voters in 2020.

With the mural in need of a temporary home, SFMOMA officials said they entered into an agreement with City College in 2019 to share the cost of maintaining, removing, transporting and installing the mural from the City College campus to SFMOMA and back.

SFMOMA argues in its filing that City College should use some of the $145 million bond money allocated to the theater project to pay its share of the costs associated with the mural — which, it notes, is slated to be the centerpiece of the new theater.

“SFMOMA is extremely disappointed by the CCSF’s refusal to comply with the agreement that helped secure a collaborative partnership, resulting in more than 598,000 people experiencing and enjoying this remarkable work for free,” the museum statement said.

City College spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Museum officials said SFMOMA “made repeated efforts” to negotiate a resolution with City College, but they led nowhere, forcing the museum to take legal action.

According to SFMOMA, the institutions agreed in 2019 that museum expenditures for the estimated $6.2 million project would be a maximum of $3.9 million, with the college paying the remaining balance. So far, SFMOMA has spent more than $4.5 million, museum officials said in their complaint.

“SFMOMA has not sought, and is not currently seeking, to recover this excess amount,” the court filing said. “I have only asked the CCSF to recognize and fulfill its obligations under the agreement.”

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