17.6.08

In the midst of recent archival meanderings, I was surprised to find that the building housing University Place Gourmet Deli was once used by such leftist parties as the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Turns out, the area surrounding 13th St. and University Place was once the epicenter of New York radical politics. Emma Goldman (not Goldburg) lived at 210 13th St. from 1903 to 1913; it also served as the headquarters of her Mother Earth magazine. And Union Square set the scene for everything from Goldman's arrest in 1893 for encouraging the unemployed to steal bread, to protests against Sacco and Vanzetti's execution in 1927.

Lesser known was the New Workers School, which opened in 1923 (just after the opening of The New School) and occupied a building on University Place, at a site now featuring a Jamba Juice. The New Workers School set out to offer a "systematic proletarian education that should help the workers meet the political and industrial emergencies that face them in the struggle with the ruling classes." It offered classes in Marxism, History, Evolution and Public Speaking. New classes that were added for its second term included The History of the Three Internationals, The Syndicalist Movement in Europe, and Imperialism Since 1860 in the United States.


When muralist Diego Rivera's commissioned piece for the Rockefeller Center was rejected, he offered to reproduce it, without charge, for anybody who would give him wall space. Thus began his residency at the New Workers School. A reporter for Time went to see the murals:
The route was obscure: past a cut rate drugstore, a toy shop and a haberdashery to a grimy doorway labeled: NEW WORKERS SCHOOL; up a narrow steep staircase straight to the top floor; through the bare offices of New York's Communist Opposition headquarters, to an oblong lecture room. There from door to door ran a set of 21 heavy, richly-colored fresco panels, a present to Communism by a man generally acknowledged to be the world's greatest muralist—Diego Maria Concepcion Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodriguez de Valpuesta.

The completed work was known as Portrait of America, and prominently features Lenin, surrounded by such figures as Thoreau and Thomas Paine.


More than a name and a politics, The New Workers School and The New School for Social Research both shared an attraction to Mexican muralists. While The New Workers School was able to provide a space for the increasingly marginalized Diego Rivera (he had recently been banished from the Communist Party for his ties to Trotsky), the first pieces commissioned by the newly opened New School for Social Research were a series of large murals by Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco, who along with Rivera, was a leading figure in the Mexican Mural Renaissance.


The New School frescoes, five altogether, are know as A Call for Revolution and Universal Brotherhood,and were painted between November, 1931 and January, 1932. If anybody knows where I can see these, please let me know.

2 comments:

e said...

They're in the Lang building (sixth floor I believe, maybe fourth). I tried to go see them last summer, but they're closed for viewing. renovation i think. though, considering that I'm faculty...

Marianne said...

Faculty, son?