Art in Action

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Art in Action at the Golden Gate International Exposition. "The Pit" with its many artists is at floor level and Herman Volz's mosaic is on the opposite wall. LIFE photographer Peter Stackpole climbed up Diego Rivera's scaffold to take this shot

Art in Action was an exhibit of artists at work displayed for four months in the summer of 1940 at the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) held on Treasure Island. Many famous artists took part in the exhibit, including Dudley C. Carter, woodcarver and Diego Rivera, muralist. Rivera painted his monumental work Pan American Unity at Art in Action.[1]


During the first year of the Exposition, the investors failed to make a profit and the GGIE committee decided to extend the fair for one more year.[1] The exhibition's second season ran from May 25, 1940 through September 29, 1940, and featured lower ticket prices and a collection of new attractions.[2] Art in Action opened on June 1, a week after the main Exposition, and closed at the same time as the rest of the Exposition.[3]

Timothy L. Pflueger, architect and member of the GGIE design committee, came up with a plan to have an exhibition of artists on display. He contacted a wide array of artists to show their talents to the public while working within the "Fine Arts Palace", a concrete and steel industrial building measuring 335 by 78 feet intended to be an aircraft hangar after the Exposition closed.[4] For the second time, Pflueger brought Rivera to San Francisco to paint a mural, this time as the main attraction at Art in Action.

Alfred Frankenstein of the New York Times reported from the opening day and wrote "Here the visitor is privileged to observe a kind of twenty-ring circus of art... On the floor, in a series of little ateliers, sculptors, painters, lithographers, etchers, ceramicists, weavers and whatnot are at work under the direct observation of the public."[5] On July 29, 1940, LIFE magazine ran a story about Art in Action using a spread of color photos.[6]

Along one wall, Rivera painted the mural Pan American Unity on ten steel-framed panels spanning 74 feet in width and reaching 22 feet in height, weighing a total of 23 tons.[3]

Some 68 artists had participated by the end of September when the Exposition was closed.[7] Rivera was not finished, however; he and two assistants labored for two more months in the empty exhibit hall. On Friday, November 30 and Sunday, December 2, 30,000–35,000 visitors came to Treasure Island to view the completed mural.[3] During the painting of the mural, Frida Kahlo had arrived in San Francisco and on December 8, 1940, Rivera's 54th birthday, Kahlo and Rivera were married for the second time in a civil ceremony at San Francisco City Hall.

After the Exposition, many of the larger artworks remained in the building in temporary storage. Most of these ended up at San Francisco City College in their permanent collection, including Dudley C. Carter's Bighorn Mountain Ram which became the school's mascot.[8]


Artists that participated in the Art in Action exhibition.

Other fine artists that participated at the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Poletti, Therese; Tom Paiva (2008). Art Deco San Francisco: The Architecture of Timothy Pflueger. Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 1-56898-756-0.
  2. ^ TIME. June 3, 1940. Cut-Rate Golden Gate
  3. ^ a b c The Diego Rivera Mural Project. Art In Action Archived 2011-06-10 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Burrows, Anna. "The San Francisco Golden Gate Exhibition 1939-1940". San Francisco 1939-1940: Honors 219F Essays. Archived from the original on 29 August 2008. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  5. ^ New York Times. June 9, 1940. Alfred Frankenstein. Diverse Attractions at the Golden Gate Fair
  6. ^ " Life magazine. July 29, 1940". Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2008.
  7. ^ City College of San Francisco Library Exhibitions. May 22, 2008. Artists Working for All the People: Art in Action and the Work of Pauline Teller
  8. ^ Mt. San Francisco's History from its Highest Point. San Francisco City College Archived December 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Oral history interview with Ernest Lenshaw, 1964 May 19". Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution. May 19, 1964. Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  10. ^ Herman Volz interview, 1964 June 27, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  11. ^ The Jean Varda Project. Timeline Archived 2008-04-23 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Heather A. Vaughan. Fashion and Textile Historian. April 2008. Foreign Treasures: Elizabeth Ginno’s Costume Etchings at the 1940 Exposition on Treasure Island[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "Covarrubias Mural Now on View at the de Young". Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF). Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  14. ^ "Dorothy Rieber Joralemon". Retrieved 2017-06-02.

Coordinates: 37°49′27″N 122°22′16″W / 37.8242°N 122.3710°W / 37.8242; -122.3710