Celebrating Detroit’s Industry: Diego Rivera and the Detroit Institute of Art Murals

Commissioned originally by the Detroit Institute of Art’s Museum Director, Valentiner, in 1930, Diego Rivera began work for the murals in the Garden Court in the following year. His interest in industry and mechanics drew him to the city’s automotive plants and he became so inspired he eventually asked if he could paint a mural that covered all 27 panels of the Garden Court. It was funded by DIA patron Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford, for $25,000.

The essence of the murals celebrates Detroit’s auto industry, where the main images are of men coming together at each step of production. He features male nudes on the North wall, and female nudes on the South wall. Each person represents either fathers or mothers of the earth, and an aspect of raw materials. The pairing represents the coming together of different races: white, yellow, red, and black. Above the male nudes, hands grasp the material wealth of the land. He often pairs opposing concepts on opposite walls. Some feature the expansion of technological advancement, and others focus on organic materials.

The overall experience of the murals is almost impossible to describe. A picture can only capture the content, but cannot capture the experience. In person, the colors are brilliant and the size of the room itself is awe-inspiring. They represent an important period in Detroit history following the Great Depression, and resonate with today’s economy as Detroit works to rebuild itself.

Source: Rubyan-Ling, Saronne. “The Detroit murals of Diego Rivera.” History Today. 46.4 (1996): 34-38. Print. <http://proxy.lib.umich.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/202811532?accountid=14667&gt;.

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