Art at the DIAVisit Rivera Court
Industry and technology as the indigenous culture of Detroit
The Detroit Industry fresco cycle was conceived by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886–1957) as a tribute to the city's manufacturing base and labor force of the 1930s. Rivera completed the twenty-seven panel work in eleven months, from April 1932 to March 1933. It is considered the finest example of Mexican mural art in the United States, and the artist thought it the best work of his career.
Rivera was a Marxist who believed that art belonged on public walls rather than in private galleries. He found his medium in the fresco, where paint is applied to wet plaster. Its vast size allowed him to explore grand and complex themes, which would be accessible to a large audience. In Mexico, Rivera's murals tied modern Mexican culture to its indigenous roots, revealing the ancient Indian cultures as Mexico's true heritage. Similarly, Rivera's Detroit Industry murals depict industry and technology as the indigenous culture of Detroit.
The mural cycle begins on the east wall, where Rivera uses the image of a baby growing in the bulb of a plant to remind us that all human endeavor is rooted in the earth. The women on each side are fertility figures holding fruits, vegetables, and grains grown in Michigan.
On the west wall, Rivera shows the key personnel involved in industry: the worker and the manager. By giving them equal stature, he suggests both are necessary. Above, imagery of war planes and passenger planes present both the positive and destructive sides of industry.
The largest panel of the north wall represents the important operations in the production and manufacture of the engine and transmission of the 1932 Ford V-8. In the upper corners, scenes of a baby being vaccinated and the manufacture of poison gases contrast the beneficial and harmful results of industry.
In the major panel of the south wall is the culmination of the automobile manufacturing process — production of the car’s exterior. On the right, Rivera’s imposing stamping press shares characteristics of Coalticue, the Aztec goddess of creation and war. Rivera suggests the ancient gods have been replaced by the machinery of industry.
Want to learn more about the murals?
Want to see Rivera working on this masterpiece?
The DIA offers a multimedia tour of Detroit Industry, available on iPads at the museum's Rivera Court Information desk and online at acoustiguidetours.com.
The DIA is thankful for Ford Motor Company Fund's support of the Detroit Industry iPad tour.
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