Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s murals “Detroit Industry” is designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark

Dianna Cabello, Staff Writer

In April of 1932, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, husband of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, was commissioned by Edsel Ford, President of Ford motor company and son of Henry Ford and William Valentiner, Director of the DIA, to paint his renowned murals depicting the intense spirit of Detroit on the four walls of the Detroit Institute of Art in the Garden Court. Ford and Valentiner were both progressive in their appreciation for mural art and recognized the surrealistic quality and foresight that Rivera portrayed in his illustrious murals. They did not impose any artistic restrictions or expressions on Rivera other than that the murals should relate to the history of Detroit and its industrialization. Rivera was paid $25,000 for the commissioned duty of creating and painting the murals.

In April of 1932, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, husband of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, was commissioned by Edsel Ford, President of Ford motor company and son of Henry Ford and William Valentiner, Director of the DIA, to paint his renowned murals depicting the intense spirit of Detroit on the four walls of the Detroit Institute of Art in the Garden Court. Ford and Valentiner were both progressive in their appreciation for mural art and recognized the surrealistic quality and foresight that Rivera portrayed in his illustrious murals. They did not impose any artistic restrictions or expressions on Rivera other than that the murals should relate to the history of Detroit and its industrialization. Rivera was paid $25,000 for the commissioned duty of creating and painting the murals.

When Rivera arrived in Detroit, Michigan in 1932, he came upon an American city which was slowly recovering from the bitterness of the Great Depression of 1929. The auto industry had suffered a significant decrease in demand, which in turn, negatively affected the wages of the working class. In the winter of 1932, nearly half of Detroit workers were insufferably unemployed. Thus, city’s working class had begun to protest and fight back. Eruptions of strikes and organized labor unions were formed.

Upon his arrival, amid the after midst of protesters, Rivera immediately began observing and studying the industrious city and its factories, recognizing that the spirit of Detroit could be found in the heart of the factories and its workers.  His chief focus and inspiration was drawn from the Ford motor plant, also known as Rouge Plant. In July 1932, Diego Rivera began his famed work, “Detroit Industry”. He spent approximately nine months designing, painting and creating what he believed was his greatest work ever.

Diego Rivera finally completed his masterpiece in March of 1933. The presentation of his frescos caused unnerving objection from many people, as it was considered blasphemous and pornographic. A Detroit News editorial called the murals “course in conception…foolishly vulgar…a slander to Detroit workmen…un-American” with proposals to “whitewash the entire work.” However, Rivera’s defense arrived powerfully through the working class of Detroit when at least 100,000 visitors came to visit the mural in the first month alone.

In an unpublished manuscript, Valentiner described the iconic murals as “a sort of encyclopedia of the scientific and mechanical knowledge of his era, beginning with the human being’s development form an embryo.  Man’s activities,” he continued “are shown spreading out like the roots of a tree” “from the development of agriculture, to the discovery of natural resources and the invention of technological methods of the peoples of the world.” At the center of his work, Rivera placed the industrial working class portrayed not as a gray mass but as an “immense, living, social power, whose collective labor puts into motion all of mankind’s historic achievements.”

Edsel Ford simply issued a statement saying “I admire Rivera’s spirit. I really believe he was trying to express his idea of the spirit of Detroit.”

Despite many of the negative reactions and controversies, Rivera in the end remained grateful, expressing that “his murals could never be the focus of the private contemplation of the privileged few, but rather they would instead inspire and become an active agent in the revolutionary transformation of society.”  He had captured the surrealistic spirit of Detroit. He had captured its days of glory past and hopes of future dreams.

And on April 22, 2014, Diego Rivera’s magnificent mural masterpiece “Detroit Industry” was recognized and awarded as a national historic landmark.

Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” presently has an estimated worth between $452 million and $866 million dollars and is currently protected from Detroit’s bankruptcy sale.

Dianna Cabello is a Staff Writer for Latino Giant and an English Language Arts Educator in the DFW area in Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas in Arlington with a  Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, with emphasis an on Mexican-American Studies and a Minor in English. She is involved and highly supportive of the Latino community in North Texas and support the progressive endeavors of the emerging community Latino leaders.

Sources:
World Socialist Website
USA Today