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Tough Times and Beauty in the Bay

March 13, 2009 |  7:00 am

"City Life," painted by Victor Arnautoff in 1934.


In San Francisco, the Depression's artistic legacy

By Christopher Reynolds,
Reporting from San Francisco

10:20 AM PST, March 07, 2009

Stocks have crashed, industry is shuddering and banks are failing. The restless unemployed will soon fill the streets. Yet in San Francisco, some crazed optimist in the Pacific Stock Exchange Tower has hired Diego Rivera to decorate a private club for stockbrokers.

Could this be the most doomed, stupid idea of all 1930? Here is Rivera, an intermittent communist who'd met with Stalin in Russia only two years before, perched on the scaffolding above the financial titans of Sansome Street. He's supposed to sketch grand visions of happy, healthy California, its produce plump and shiny, its hills dotted with oil wells, the Golden State agleam with capitalism. All this, a year into the Great Depression.

What is the muralist thinking? What are the stockbrokers thinking?