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Siqueiros' influential mural América Tropical, conserved by the Getty Conservation Institute
América Tropical during conservation work by the Getty Conservation Institute. © J. Paul Getty Trust.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- América Tropical, the only surviving public mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros in the United States still in its original location, is set to open to the public on October 9, 2012, 80 years after the mural was first painted by Siqueiros.

The influential work has been conserved through an ongoing public-private partnership between the City of Los Angeles and the Getty Conservation Institute.

“América Tropical has been an inspiration to numerous artists, educators, and social activists about the importance of freedom of expression since its unveiling in 1932,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “This project tells the story of Siqueiros’ incredible artistic talent and his unwavering commitment to people, of censorship during a period of great political upheaval, and of its preservation and enduring presence. I’m proud that the City and the Getty Conservation Institute have come together to make this important investment in public art.”

Tim Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute, said, “Providing public access to América Tropical has been central to this project. From the Getty Conservation Institute’s initial involvement in 1988, it has been a persistent advocate for the conservation of the mural, and the construction of the shelter, and a public viewing platform. We are so pleased to bring América Tropical back to the people of Los Angeles.”

David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the great Mexican artists of the 20th century, painted América Tropical in 1932 on the second story exterior wall of the Italian Hall on Olvera Street, in the area of downtown Los Angeles known as El Pueblo.

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.

The GCI also has carried out extensive research, documentation, and conservation treatment, including plaster stabilization, cleaning, and consolidation, and GCI scientists have conducted scientific studies to identify the materials originally used by Siqueiros to create the mural. The GCI will share this information to inform the conservation of other Siqueiros works.

Following the completion of the conservation project, the GCI has committed to maintaining and conserving the mural for the next decade. The long-term stewardship of the mural and the América Tropical Interpretive Center rests with the City of Los Angeles.

Architectural firm Brooks + Scarpa oversaw the design and construction of the shelter, platform, and Interpretive Center for the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Engineering. The design firm IQ Magic developed the concept for the Interpretive Center, under the guidance of the City and Amigos de Siqueiros.

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