May 03, 2014

New York City from the top of the Rock

Rockefeller Center is a complex of 19 buildings covering 8.9 ha in Midtown Manhattan. Begun in 1930 it includes the GE Building (at left), NBC studios and offices, Radio City Music Hall and much more.

In 1932 Mexican artist and socialist Diego Rivera (his patron was Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to create a colour fresco for the 100 square metre wall in the lobby at 30 Rock. This coming after attempts to secure the commissioning of either Matisse or Picasso. In any event, Rivera's Man at the Crossroads became somewhat controversial as it contained Moscow May Day scenes and an obvious portrait of Lenin. After much argument between artist and employer and a refusal by Rivera to replace the offending figures with something more anonymous, the artist was sent packing. Fully paid of course. His mural was papered over while unsuccessful attempts were made to move it to a more accommodating venue. About a year later Rivera's mural was destroyed and in its place a larger piece by Josep Maria Sert, named American Progress, was commissioned and is what we see today.

Rivera recreated his work in Mexico City where it was renamed Man, Controller of the Universe. The composition is similar to the original with some additions. Leon Trotsky, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels appear in the new version as does John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Mr. Rockefeller, a lifelong abstainer from most things fun, is pictured drinking in a nightclub with a woman, a dish of syphilis bacteria appearing above their heads. The Rockefeller family was not amused.

The Lower Plaza features an ice rink where the Rangers play when Madison Square Gardens is booked with a rock concert or boat show. Workers were removing the ice the day we visited.

Views from the Top of the Rock are impressive and it's well worth going through the security screening. "Backpacks, cell phones and cameras" seemed a constant refrain from our security agents, friendly enough but insistent all the same. Good thing they didn't mention Swiss Army knives, corkscrews or Q-Tips.

Looking south to Downtown.

Looking west to New Jersey.

And north towards Central Park.

The Upper West Side.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.