This article investigates the Rivera controversy at Rockefeller Center arguing that the controversy illuminates tensions in democratic culture over the role of the masses and their relation to the “legitimate” public, exhibited in anxieties about phantom publics and barbarian crowds. Beginning with critical discourse surrounding the construction of Rockefeller Center, the mural controversy is resituated within a broader frame in which revanchist anxieties and worry about mass media play a crucial role. Appeals during the construction of the building to the “public” character of the structure took on a life of their own during the apex of the Rivera controversy.

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