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Monday, March 5, 2012

Diamonds in the Desert -- Part 5 -- Diego Rivera Murals

I said I'd return to the Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera in the Detroit Institute of Arts because really, they are so remarkable and in a way, wrap up our Detroit visit, reflecting back to "diamonds" and "desert."

As you enter the DIA and take a few steps up, you'll find straight ahead of you an enormous, beautifully sunlit atrium. On all four walls of the atrium are spectacular murals by Rivera depicting Detroit's city's manufacturing base and labor force of the 1930s.

The murals are frescoes, a technique in which paint is applied to wet plaster. One must work very quickly while the plaster is wet, and it is a laborious process. The project was done over an eleven-month period. (When you look at the wide shots, you get the sense of scale and what a grand and large project this was!)

The 27 panels depict the Ford Motor Company and reflect elements of the earth and life. They were painted in 1932-33 and Rivera himself ranked them among his best works.

As you enter, the wall facing is the east wall. At the top, you'll see this image of a baby growing in the bulb of a plant. His symbolism?

All humankind is rooted in the earth. On either side, woman representing fertility figures are painted with Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables.

The west wall behind you pictures the two essential characters of industry -- worker and manager.

They are given equal stature.

The two longest walls depict factory life at the famed River Rouge plant and there are some interesting tidbits that the excellent iPad tour provided.

For example, the conveyer belt was used to "convey" the motion and energy of the production process. As you can see, it goes through many "areas" and one gets the feeling of physical labor.

As one might expect with a Rivera project, there was plenty of controversy involved. Certainly, his Marxist philosophy was considered to have been included, with his empathy for the common worker. This small panel shows people walking over a bridge to get to (or from) the plant. It was at this site some years before there had been considerable action with strikes.

Although you can't see them well in these photos, both of the wide walls reflect not only the auto industry, but the positive and negative results of technology and industry in general, including the manufacture of poison gases and how it plays into war. This, of course, was controversial.

Clergy were upset as well, considering the murals blasphemous and vulgar.

According to wikipedia, during the McCarthy era, the DIA posted a sign in Rivera Court that acknowledged his politics were detestable.

"But let's get the record straight on what he did here. He came from Mexico to Detroit, thought our mass production industries and our technology wonderful and very exciting, painted them as one of the great achievements of the twentieth century. This came after the debunking twenties when our artists and writers found nothing worthwhile in America and worst of all in America was the Middle West. Rivera saw and painted the significance of Detroit as a world city. If we are proud of this city's achievements, we should be proud of these paintings and not lose our heads over what Rivera is doing in Mexico today."

This panel is a direct throwback to the Renaissance era of including patrons in an artistic work. Pictured are Edsel Ford, who funded much of the work and was commissioner of the arts commission and William R. Valentin, director of the DIA and the one who commissioned the work.

A flipped photo makes the dedication easier to read.

Both stood firm in the controversy. As Ford said, simply -- and as the last word -- "I like it."

I liked it, too.

I end with revisiting a photo from the first post in this series, and again, my apologies to the photographer. This is the Detroit plant -- perhaps River Rouge -- over the past decade -- vacant, silent.

It says it all.

If you are interested in learning more about the murals, click HERE to see a series of tours from the DIA's website that show Diego Rivera making the murals as well as explanations from curators about the significance and symbolism of various elements.

Meanwhile, over at CHOPSTICKS AND STRING I'm reviewing my latest read, "Madresfield," which is about the English Manor House that inspired "Brideshead Revisited."

20 comments:

Annie said...

I am staggered. What magnificence! And - I don't know what astounds me more - the murals themselves or the fact that Diego Rivera was in Detroit. I always think of him in Mexico, never leaving, and his fame spreading outward into the world.

Bella Rum said...

So interesting. Thank you for the bit of history as well as the art.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, what a wonderful post about Rivera. I admire him more than I can say, and you've taught me more than I knew. Lesley got to live in the same apartment building where he lived while he painted these murals, while she attended the College for Creative Studies, across the street from the DIA. I'm thrilled that you have done these posts.

Jeanie said...

I so admire your ability to interpret the art you show us. This has been very enlightening....if I ever go, I want you to go with me.

Janet said...

Jeanie, thanks for doing this post. No matter what his politics, Rivera was a fantastic artist and these murals are beautiful. I'd love to see them in person some day.

Retired English Teacher said...

This must have been fascinating to visit. I would love to see these murals by Diego Rivera. I have an interest for several reasons. I read about the time he was creating these works while reading "Frida" the biography of Frida Kahlo.

Secondly, my grandfather was a muralist who did many murals in Colorado during the depression. He was hired to do the work by some of the works programs of the time.

I am fascinated by Diego scope and vision in this work.

Tracy said...

WOW... HUGELY impressive and inspiring! And the story of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo fascinates, their connection and art. This was super to see, Jeanie! One of those must-see-for-real-someday kind of things. :o) Happy Week ((HUGS)) P.S. Many thanks for your visits, and especially to see me & hubby's new art blog!

Pat said...

I've never been to Detroit nor seen Diego Rivera's art in person. Another thing to add to my bucket list - I should live so long!

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

These are MAGNIFICENT! To see them "in person" must be incredible....! I love the Rivera did so many fantastic Murals in Public Buildings---And this being a Museum---Well, it is truly magnificent. I'm glad Edsel Ford prevailed...!!!!

Barb said...

You saw some magnificent architecture and art while in Detroit, Jeannie. Thanks for sharing with us.

joyce said...

Okay, so I'm the one with the lack of culture who has never heard of rivera, but I do love murals and these are stunning..I especially love the baby and the workers crossing the bridge.

Marilyn said...

I am reading your posts backward. What amazing frescoes. I did think it said "Industrial Revolution" so well.

un arc-en-ciel dans le lavabo said...

you're going to smile as i' smiling now... but when I first read DIA my thoughts went to Detroit International Airport (?!!) and as I've been to the airport (but not in Detroit) I was thinking : mmmh too bad I miss these beautiful murals in the airport... maybe because I was rushing everytime between connections... and then i realized it was about the Institute of Arts... anyway, very impressive !

and you have such a lovely orange boy cat :) !

Privet and Holly said...

Simply amazing!
Loved learning more
about this very talented
artist.....Sounds like a
great place to visit.

Happy Wednesday,
xx Suzanne

Joanne Huffman said...

An iPad tour? Sounds intriguing. Good for Ford and the DIA for standing up to McCarthyism!

Arti said...

What a huge, industrial city Detroit is. I can't imagine the scale of a single individual pitted against the large machine of industry, and yet the irony is such a contrast is reflected through an art form. Thought-provoking.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Very good - those murals are stunning. I know so little about Detroit, it's been great to see the city through your eyes and discover some of the gems. You make me want to work a little harder to explore Minneapolis and showcase it!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Jeanie I was so captivated by this post that I went back through all your posts about DIA! What a beautiful muesum!

I hope your sweet Gypsy is feeling well. My cat is also getting old and I see him slowing down. I know the next few years may be his last so I am enjoying all the cuddle time I get with him.

PS: I became a new follower!

Becca said...

My husband has always kept large posters of these murals in his office. As an automotive engineer, they really speak to him about the kind of work that keeps this city moving.

They are wonderful!

Marti McClure said...

Jeanie, I am really amazed at how well you recreate your tour for us to enjoy. It really is as if we are there with you. The photos are fabulous and the commentary is so interesting, and it all really captures the essence of the controversial Diego Rivera. Thanks for taking us on this inspiring trip with you! ~Marti

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