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Timeline of Benton’s America Today

  • 1930


    America Today hangs in The New School's boardroom.

  • 1982


    The New School sells the mural to art dealer Maurice Segoura

  • 1983


    Mayor Ed Koch helps look for a company to buy the mural and approaches Equitable Life

  • 1984


    Equitable Life president John Carter oversees construction of 787 7th Ave. headquarters.

  • 1986


    Equitable Tower opens to widespread acclaim. America Today hangs on display in lobby.

  • 1996


    America Today is moved to new headquarters at 1290 Avenue of the Americas

  • 2012


    Mural is taken down for lobby renovations and donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • 2014


    The exhibition "Thomas Hart Benton's America Today Mural Rediscovered" opens at the Met

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More information

1930

The New School commissions Benton to paint a mural for the third floor of a new Art Deco-style building at 66 West 12th Street in New York's Greenwich Village.

Benton works on the mural in a loft on East 12th Street. In the fall of 1931, the 10-panel mural titled America Today is installed in a boardroom on the third floor of the New School building and unveiled to the public.

The commission of America Today marks a critical connection between American and Mexican modernism, the great Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco was commissioned to paint a mural in the New School at the same time, and the two artists worked on their projects concurrently. (Orozco's mural is still in place at The New School).

1982

The New School announces the sale of America Today to Maurice Segoura, a Manhattan art dealer, for $2 million on the condition that it not be resold outside the U.S. or broken up and sold as individual panels. Located in a heavily-used classroom at the New School, the mural is not getting the public attention or physical protection it deserves. New York art museums know the Benton mural is for sale but do not buy it.

1983

Maurice Segoura informs the New School of great difficulty reselling the mural and starts negotiating with a consortium of museums, making it likely the painting will be broken up.

Herbert Rickman, special aide to New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Barnabas McHenry of The Reader’s Digest Association and art historian Emily Braun work together to find companies and developers with building projects that can incorporate the mural into a new design. Affidavits and testimonials to keep the mural intact and in New York are signed by leading art historians and critics.

Maurice Segoura signs with Sotheby Parke Bernet (now Sotheby's) to sell the mural in May 1984. Almost certainly, the mural will be broken up and sold as individual panels.

Rickman and others negotiate a deal with Sotheby’s: A private buyer, if found, will have until January 15, 1984 to buy out the auction without penalty.

In December, Herbert Rickman happens to meet John Carter, president, Equitable Life, at a social gathering. From Carter, he learns the company plans to build new headquarters at 787 Seventh Avenue. Carter agrees to a meeting to discuss the plight of the Benton mural.

1984

On January 26, Rickman, McHenry and Braun meet with Carter. Also attending are Benjamin Holloway, Equitable’s chief real estate officer, and Dave Harris, chief of staff. The next day, at a meeting with building architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, Equitable makes the decision to purchase the mural. Carter notes: “We saw immediately that the idea was irresistible.”

On February 1, Equitable officially acquires the mural for $3.1 million – or $3.4 million with tax.

1986

Two years later, after extensive cleaning and restoration, America Today is unveiled to great critical acclaim in the company’s new headquarters at 787 Seventh Avenue.

1996

America Today is moved to 1290 Avenue of the Americas, the company's new headquarters.

2012

In February, the mural is taken down and placed in storage at the request of the building owner, to make way for a lobby renovation.

In November, America Today is given as a donation to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

2014

On September 30, The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens the exhibit “Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today Mural Rediscovered”