Detroit Institute of Arts

Diego Rivera Painting Detroit Industry-



On May 21, 1932 Diego Rivera was commissioned by the Detroit Institute of Arts director William R. Valentiner to paint a mural for the museum concerning the development of industrialization. The purpose of the mural was to incapsulate the history of Detroit and the marvel behind the engeneering assemblage of vehicles. Originally he was only going to construct the frescoes of the two bigger portions of the painting, the north and south walls. However, his fascination with Detroit and machines prompted the inclusion of the other two walls in order to do justice to the city. He decided to base the painting off of the heart of industrial America, the Ford Company River Rouge Plant. After nearly a year, $40,000 in production costs, and the cooperation of Edsel Ford, Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry was completed and signed on March 13, 1933. Rivera considers this piece to be his greatest work in the United States. The entire mural consists of four walls. Each wall is divided into separate panels designated with a specific theme. Rivera’s goal was twofold. First, he wanted to depict the wonder of the process of industry life, with an emphasis on the manufacturing of the Ford V-8 in all of its complexities. This mural takes the observer through the entire factory allowing for a glimpse of the rudimentary beginnings of the car and carries it out to the finished product. His other objective was to capture all of the people involved with the production of the car.  This included not only the laborers who provided their mettle in order to assemble the automobile while simultaneously contending with the depression, but also the spectators who wanted to see the industrial juggernaut and the leaders of the Ford Company as well. Even though the automobile industry was his main focus, he also opted to incorporate industry as a whole with images alluding to the medical field and other forms of manual labor and manufacturing.1 This artistic direction is also a part of one of the fundamental principles that he subliminally wanted to stress; the idea that everything is related to something else on one level or another and that there is no individuality. All things including beliefs, actions, and intents, regardless of whether they are similar or opposing, are meshed together forming a unified consciousness.



Despite the fact that Detroit Industry has received renowned acclaim from its early viewings until the present date, Diego Rivera’s masterpiece did not go without a stint of controversy. Upon its unveiling, Vaccination fell under the heaviest scrutiny out of all the other panels from religious leaders, government officials, and members of the general public. His critics were unhappy with the idea of Rivera making a parody of the birth of Jesus Christ. Outraged they began demanding that the mural be whitewashed. However, after working closely with Edsel Ford and the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Rivera had their absolute support. After garnering approval from many of the Detroit citizens, the mural was allowed to remain in the museum completely intact.