Jillian Tamaki
 

The Suggested Substitution

Nov 18th, 2011

I think most working illustrators will find the finessed language in this letter, from Nelson A. Rockefeller to Diego Rivera, very familiar.

Dear Mr. Rivera:

When I was in the No. 1 building at Rockefeller Center yesterday viewing the progress of your thrilling mural I noticed that in the most recent portion of the painting you included a portrait of Lenin. The piece is beautifully painted but it seems to me that his portrait appearing in this public mural might very easily seriously offend a great many people. If it were in a private house it would be one thing, but this mural is in a public building and the situation is therefore quite different. As must as I dislike to do so, I am afraid I must ask you to substitute the face of some unknown man where Lenin’s face now appears.

You know how enthusiastic I am about the work which you have been doing and that to date we have in no way restricted you in either subject or treatment. I am sure you will understand our feeling in this situation and we will greatly appreciate your making the suggested substitution.

Sincerely,
Nelson A. Rockefeller

Chills! Oh well, what do you expect, I suppose. The mural was destroyed (the painting above is a recreation at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City). You can read more about that particular dispute here. You can view the actual letter, which I transcribed, at the Diego Rivera exhibit now on view at the MoMA.