Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals, painted between 1932-33, are a startling twenty-seven panel work completed over a period of a year, the most famous element of which is presented here. Conceived as a tribute to the labor force of the 1930s, summed up in the city of Detroit’s position as the global heartland of car manufacture, Rivera’s work caused a storm of controversy upon its completion. Considered by many to be a triumph of Mexican mural art, the most startling example in the United States, and as the preeminent work of his career by the artist himself, the Detroit Industry murals portray industry as the indigenous practice of Detroit. Rendered in the mural style, Rivera also suffused the images with Marxist iconography, leading to a great deal of disagreement from an American establishment in the grip of the 'red fear'. Rivera’s use of the mural style, indigenous to his native Mexico, stemmed from his belief that art belonged to the public as a whole and public walls were the only place for paintings. Rivera’s iconic images feature figurative reproductions of the entire strata of industrial responsibilities, coalescing into a unity of production and equality. Their interpretation, however, is complex.
Rivera was commissioned by the son of Henry Ford to paint two murals for the Detroit Institute of Arts, stipulating only that the work must reference the history of the city and the development of industry. Alongside his wife, the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, Rivera arrived in the United States and began studying the Ford automotive plant, becoming fascinated by the inner workings of the immense business. When first unveiled to the public Rivera’s depiction of different races working side by side, along with the symbolic nudes, and a depiction of the nativity populated by doctors and scientists, proved too much for early twentieth-century America.
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