Art reference

The Art of Propaganda: The Detroit Murals by Diego Rivera

In Mexico, Diego Rivera helped create a new cultural milieu for the post-revolutionary country, painting socialist murals that incorporated indigenous Mexican imagery as the dominant theme. Aztec gods and costumes were generously scattered throughout these paintings, and he repeatedly combined colonial imagery with indigenous themes, establishing the idea of ​​a Mexico saved by its revolutionary indigenous people, led by Zapata. How would he express himself when he came to the United States to paint for Edsel Ford at the Detroit Institute?

To his biographer, Bertram Wolfe, Rivera said, “Your engineers are your greatest artists. These highways are the most beautiful things I have seen in your beautiful country. In all the constructions of man’s past – pyramids, Roman roads and aqueducts, cathedrals and palaces, nothing equals these. From them and the machine will produce the style of tomorrow … the best modern architects of our time find their aesthetic and functional inspiration in North American industrial constructions, machine designs and engineering, the greatest expressions of the artistic genius of the New world. “The idea of ​​painting this uniquely American transformation of the landscape, to capture this new energetic culture in pictures, has now captured Rivera’s imagination. Excited by the prospect, he imagines himself in a big man’s van. new hybrid art, propelling forward the ideas of José Vasconcelos of the raza cosmica (the cosmic race), which described a superior metis people made up of a mixture of all the races of mankind. Echoing Vasconcelos, he said: “I have always maintained that art in America, if one day it can be said to see the light of day, will be the product of a fusion between the wonderful indigenous art that derives from immemorial depths of time in the center and south of the continent… and that of the industrial worker of the north.

Diego M. Rivera, Detroit Industry, East Wall, fresco from 1932-1933. Photo courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts

Once in Detroit, Rivera fully focused on the industrial processes of the great automotive city, with its extraordinary array of manufacturing processes, all leading to automotive production, from the most basic acquisition of raw materials. to the latest trim and detail finishes. The great industrial innovator Henry Ford owned mines and smelters where ores were transformed into steel; he had titanic machines installed in factories where thick and gigantic red-heated sheets rolled through vast presses and hammers, eclipsing the workers who served them; it had vast factories equipped with endless conveyor belts producing the necessary parts for engines, frames, wheels and seats, where thousands of men worked on production lines. It was the America of which President Calvin Coolidge said, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple; the man who works there worships it, and to each is due, not contempt and blame, but reverence and praise. Industry was the religion and the duty of all good citizens of the United States. For three months, Rivera studied everything, making countless sketches which he merged into extraordinary panels showing the interconnection of different factory procedures in the assembly line, impressed by the factories, but confused by the way the workers industrialists were subsumed to large machines.

The magnificent Detroit industrial murals were Rivera’s greatest work in the United States. Painted on each of the walls of an Italian courtyard with a fountain, the murals depicted man’s role at work in the Ford Motor Company’s industrial processes and transforming the earth’s mineral gifts. The east wall, facing the entrance to the courtyard, was mainly occupied by an entrance leading to a staircase, but here he began a frieze encircling the space, painting a long panel of an embryo held in the embrace. tree roots, encrusted in the fossil – mineral deposits strewn from the earth, while in the corner panels primitive, earthy female figures sat with the produce of the earth on their knees, one with wheat and corn, and the other with apples. Two smaller panels contained images of corn, squash and fruit.

Diego M. Rivera, Detroit Industry, South Wall, fresco from 1932-1933. Photo courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts