Detroit Industry

(About art rather than language.)

From the Atlantic of July/August 2012, p. 14, James Bennet’s “Idea Factories”, about Detroit:

Among Edsel Ford’s ideas to improve his city was to commission to Mexican artist Diego Rivera to paint murals, depicting auto production, in a sunlit court in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Around the same time – the early 1930s – Nelson Rockefeller also commissioned murals from Rivera, for Rockefeller Center. In both cases, Rivera, a Marxist, embedded socialist imagery in his work. In New York, Rockefeller had the paintings destroyed. In Detroit, clergy attacked Rivera’s murals as blasphemous, and The Detroit News called them un-American. Edsel protected Rivera’s art.

On Rivera:

Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez (December 8, 1886 – November 24, 1957) better known simply as Diego Rivera was a prominent Mexican painter and husband of Frida Kahlo (1929–1939 and 1940–1954). His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in Mexican art. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals … in Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City [among other places]. (link)

and on Detroit Industry:

The Detroit Industry Murals are a series of frescoes by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, consisting of twenty-seven panels depicting industry at the Ford Motor Company. Together they surround the Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Painted between 1932 and 1933, they were considered by Rivera to be his most successful work.

The two main panels on the North and South walls depict laborers working at Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant. Other panels depict advances made in various scientific fields, such as medicine and new technology. The series of murals, taken as a whole, represents the idea that all actions and ideas are one. (link)

One of the murals, in a reproduction that doesn’t do justice to it:

A while back, I had a set of notecards (all since mailed out) that included a particularly nice reproduction of the central scene from this one, with the workers, laboring on the factory floor, in the foreground and the owner types, observing, in the background.

Very complex compositions, in which diagonals are especially notable, as in this detail from another mural:

The murals are now one of Detroit’s art treasures. But New York’s are gone.


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