América Tropical, on a second-story outside wall of the old Italian Hall on Olvera Street, is the last surviving public mural by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros in the United States that remains in its original location. It was whitewashed over politics shortly after Siqueiros painted the mural during a residency in Los Angeles in 1932. After more than a decade of restoration by the city and the Getty Conservation Institute, it will open to the public on October 9.
From the Getty:
The mural depicts a Mexican Indian tied to a double cross with an American eagle above him, and revolutionary soldiers—one aiming at the eagle—closing in. Controversial from the start, within a few months the mural was partially whitewashed, and it was completely obscured by whitewash within a decade. The work was virtually forgotten until the 1960s, when the rise of the Chicano mural movement brought a renewed interest in América Tropical and Siqueiros.
Now conserved, the mural boasts a new protective shelter spanning the south wall of the Italian Hall—a canopy with sun shades on each side to protect the mural from direct exposure to sun and rain. A rooftop platform also has been constructed to allow public viewing. The América Tropical Interpretive Center (ATIC), managed by El Pueblo, is located on the ground floor of the historic Sepulveda House and its exhibits explore the history and techniques used to create América Tropical, the conservation process, and the artistic legacy of David Alfaro Siqueiros.
The $9.95 million public-private investment—a $3.95 million commitment from the Getty and $6 million from the City of Los Angeles—is the culmination of years of effort to present and conserve América Tropical. The ongoing advocacy and expertise of the Getty Conservation Institute has been central to the endeavor to save the work, as has the generous financial support of Friends of Heritage Preservation, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the community support represented by Amigos de Siqueiros.
Owing to the early whitewashing and ongoing exposure to the elements, the mural’s pictorial surface is significantly deteriorated and its colors have become faint, but the power of the image and Siqueiros’ composition remain as strong as ever. The GCI has worked to conserve and stabilize the mural to honor and protect the artistic legacy which remains from Siqueiros' own hand.
In 2005 I wrote about another whitewashed Siqueiros mural from 1932 that was located in the Chouinard art school in the Westlake district.