FYI: SFMOMA’s display run for Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural is now extended until March of next year — so you’ve got more time to check it out and marvel at how tf humans managed to get it inside.
When the SFMOMA first reopened to the public in 2021 after shuttering for more than a year due to the pandemic, museum-goers were treated to an array of then-new exhibits, among them pandemic-inspired murals. (This, unfortunately, came after former SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra stepped down from his post after a slew of racist allegations had surfaced.)
At that time, the Twin Walls Mural Company’s Our Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams — a self-described deeply personal project from artists Elaine Chu and Marina Perez-Wong, who say that the piece is rich with symbolism, featuring chakras are found throughout the piece — was commissioned for SFMOMA and measured an impressive 46 feet long; it was one of the largest indoor murals the culture center had ever displayed.
However, it pales in size to Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural (which is still on display) that was later hoisted inside.
But before the mural found a home inside SFMOMA, the 74-foot-wide, 60,000-pound work of art was embedded in a 12-inch-thick concrete wall in the Diego Rivera Theater at CCSF, where it had been since 1961. And the sheer work, ingenuity, and creativity needed to free the mural from the CCSF walls were truly awe-inspiring, as evident in an IG upload from the museum.
Almost two years later, this feat of pivoting and twisting and lifting remains an incredible achievement that will forever exist as an example of one of SFMOMA’s more interesting display constructions.
“Engineers + the Atthowe Fine Art Services moving team extracted each panel from a 12-inch thick concrete wall at CCSF,” reads a caption of the video. The team that was responsible for making the move happen had spent years working out all the small kinks and passing over all the logistical hurdles to make it happen.
“Once removed, the team encased Rivera’s panels in a protective travel frame that reduced vibration and jolting,” the caption continues; the video at one point shows a towering red crane placed on one side of Howard Street hoisting each piece into the museum as cars passed beneath them. “From there, they trucked the panels across San Francisco at 5 MPH at 4 a.m. on a series of Sunday mornings.”
After the pieces were transported to SFMOMA, the on-site team then had the task of hosting each panel over a hundred feet in the air (and over powerlines, mind you) before lowering them into the museum and fastening them into a custom steel structure.
Now mounted in the Roberts Family Gallery, the mural was originally set to end in the summer of 2023 — but its SFMOMA run has now been extended until March of 2024. (Tbh, just the sheer thought of having to take the piece of art *out of the museum* makes my stomach churn and head pulse.)
Oh! Don’t forget that the first two floors of SFMOMA are free to explore until May 29… which means you can see Pan American Unity mural, sans monetary transaction. Though, we’d totally recommend checking out Steps Coffee and perusing the community bookshelf.
For more information on the exhibit, visit sfmoma.org/exhibition/pan-American-unity.