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!)
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 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.
"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 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."