Rivera in Detroit

(Focused on art, rather than language.)

In the NYRB of June 25th, a Jed Perl review “Splendor in Ford’s Detroit” of an exhibition (by Mark Rosenfelder and others) at the Detroit Institute of Arts (March 15th–July 12th) on “Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit”. Here I focus on Rivera and his magnificent mural Detroit Industry.

The north wall of Diego Rivera’s mural Detroit Industry (1932–1933) at the Detroit Institute of Arts, depicting assembly line workers at the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge plant

(Previous posting about Detroit Industry on this blog, prompted by an article in the Atlantic.)

From Perl:

Rosenthal’s main focus — if not in the catalog then certainly in the galleries — is on how Rivera put together his immense panorama of American industry, moving from small compositional studies to the full-sized drawings known as cartoons that were then transferred to the walls. We see Rivera’s direct responses to the automobile industry, and how he worked out the subtle play of surface pattern and deep fictive space that adds twentieth- century accents and inflections to the traditions of Renaissance wall painting that he had studied in Italy a few years earlier. Detroit Industry is a splendid modern pageant, the hard labor of the assembly line reimagined with some of the dignity of dance drama.

The mural was commissioned by Edsel Ford, who also protected the Communist Rivera from attacks on his work (in other places, in particular New York, Rivera’s murals were destroyed because of his politics). Now we see Detroit Industry as a tribute to the dignity of labor, not in the crude style of Soviet Realism, but in a form that celebrated workers’ pride in their competence.

The Detroit murals are hard to appreciate in reduced reproductions like the one above. However, my earlier posting has a detail from the mural above, from which you can get some appreciation of Rivera’s skill at portraiture and also his use of visual space.

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