Postcard: Diego (Rivera) does Motown


Postcard: Diego (Rivera) does Motown 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wish you were here?

And while I’m asking, how many West Coast folk know that Diego Rivera did some of his best work in Detroit?

I didn’t, until we dropped in to Michigan a few weeks ago. But the picture above is from the Detroit Institute of Arts, where in 1932 and 1933, Mexico’s most famous Marxist muralist painted one of his most ambitious works: 27 panels of intertwined machinery, straining laborers and impassive bosses.

This was after Rivera’s U.S. debut in San Francisco but before he got into big trouble by including a Lenin portrait in a work at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Here, the idea was to celebrate the workers and industry of the Detroit area, especially the production process at Ford Motor Co.’s Rouge Plant in nearby Dearborn, Mich.

 Rivera spent 11 months on the job. (His wife, Frida Kahlo, came too but didn’t much like Detroit and suffered a miscarriage while she was there.) Edsel Ford himself liked the murals so much he doubled Rivera’s pay, giving him a total of $20,889.

All these years later, the DIA has grown and changed (most recently with a major 2007 renovation), but the Rivera Court remains at the core of the museum, its four high walls crowded with startling imagery. (The rest of the collection isn’t bad, either, especially the portraits by Van Gogh.)

But it was the Rivera Court that bowled me over – that, and the neighboring temporary exhibition of photographer Robert Frank’s gritty black-and-white work. Those pictures, taken in 1955, include many portrayals of the same plant Rivera painted. Some of the Swiss-born Frank’s Michigan images ended up in his bleak, controversial magnum opus “The Americans,” which portrayed a country full of desperation and hostility. (Jack Kerouac wrote the original introduction.)

There are more than 60 of Frank’s Michigan images images on display right now, and most seem as dark and harsh as Rivera’s brushwork is bright and compositionally tidy. Until July 4, when the Frank photo exhibition comes down, you can measure Rivera’s Ford factory against Frank’s.

Or better yet, take your own measure. The Ford Rouge Plant, once the world’s largest industrial complex, is still open to visitors, through tours run by the Henry Ford Museum. If you time it right, you can watch workers assembling F-150 trucks. Tours are offered Mondays through Saturdays, cost $15 per adult, and last about 90 minutes.

But you will need to defer those dreams of becoming another Robert Frank: Photos are not allowed in the truck-assembly area.

-Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times staff writer

Photo: Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” murals have been in the Detroit Institute of Arts since 1932. Credit: Christopher Reynolds/ Los Angeles Times

By LA Times



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