The Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts--Introduction and Index
Between 1932 and 1933, Diego Rivera completed this series of twenty-seven fresco panels entitled Detroit Industry on the walls of an inner court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It was commissioned by capitalist Edsel Ford but conceived by the Marxist artist as a tribute to the city's industries and labor force. Rivera used the Ford motor plant in Dearborn Michigan as the model for the industry murals. This plant, the Rouge Plant, spread all along the Rouge River, had a steel mill, glass factory, and auto assembly line. By the time Rivera visited these plants, the depression was in full swing but Rivera didn't record accurately aspects of the Depression. Note, for example the predella panel where workers are lined up to receive their pay in front a parking lot filled with cars, a scene he would not have observed since the work force had been dramatically reduced. In addition to the automobile industry, Rivera chronicles the history and development of various other industries in the area.
At various times the murals have been controversial. Initially, some critics focussed on Rivera's communism asserting that he had painted a communist manifesto. Others complained that the workers were depicted as dehumanized in the murals, even though most workers saw themselves as represented with dignity. Some complained that the nudes on the East wall were pornographic and saw the "Vaccination" panel as sacrilegious. Later, during the McCarthy era, a large sign was placed in the courtyard with the murals defending the artistic merit of the murals while attacking Rivera's politics. More recently, a case has been made that the cycle is universal, reflecting “not only the essence of the industrial culture of Detroit but also a belief in technology and science that is operative today. As such, it is a history-making work of art in which the working class and industrialists both find affirmation” (Downs 185). And the aesthetic value of the series is no longer in doubt; many believe that this series of frescoes represent the best of Mexican mural art in the United States.
Works Consulted or Quoted:
Luis-Martín Lozano and Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera. Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals. Taschen, 2009.
Antonio Rodríguez. Diego Rivera: Mural Painting. Mexico City: Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana, 1988.
Linda Bank Downs. Diego Rivera. The Detroit Industry Murals. New York: Norton, 1999.
Thanks to my friend JR for going to Detroit with me and indulging me in taking photos.
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© 2010 Mary Ann Sullivan.
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