Saturday, October 02, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #1 - Detroit Industry, South Wall

Detroit Industry, South Wall, Fresco, Diego Rivera, 1932-1933, Detroit Institute of Art (Thanks to Daniel at DemiDec for providing me with their Art Resource for my blog work - DemiDec rocks!!)

The link in the post headline takes you to the Detroit Institute of Art's website. The image has a rolling magnification feature to it which gives you a more close up view of the work. I highly recommend it!

Diego Rivera is on of the most important artists from Mexico. Diego Rivera's training as an artist was grounded in the traditions of European art traditions - he received a scholarship to study in Europe at 21. This training heavily influenced his own aesthetics. He lived during a politically tumultuous time - the rise of both the Communist Party (of which he was a member) and the continued rise of capitalism in the United States (important patrons for him in his career). He struggled to walk a line between them both, but was not entirely successful in negotiating between these two disparate ideologies Some of the commissioned works by US capitalists such as JP Morgan, angered the Communist Party members and Rivera was expelled from the Party. The communists believed in the abolition of private property and social hierarchy in favor of a classless society with government ownership and regulation of resources. Accepting art commissions (and the money paid!) from US capitalists angered the Communist Party. But that wasn't his only problem! His artwork and the imagery in some of his frescoes was grounded in not only portraying the political ideals of Communism, but also included their political leaders. This did not make his US capitalist patrons happy either. He spent a good part of his illustrious career caught between a rock and a hard place!

The Detroit Industry frescoes were true, or buon frescoes. Rivera was known as the leader of the Mexican Renaissance because fresco painting was very popular during the European High Renaissance (remember Michelangelo & the Sistine Chapel?) and because by 1930 Rivera had painted over 17,000 square feet of buon fresco -he became a master. Just like Michelangelo, Rivera had to paint his mural around the architecture of the building, the Garden Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The work we are looking at was on the South wall and is integrated around the doors and colonnades.

The fresco illustrates the process of assembling a Ford car in the assembly plant. You see pipes, pumps, wheels, and an assembly line of workers showing the process of building a car from beginning to end. The wall is divided in sections - notice the bottom panels that are painted in shades of grey paint - this technique also comes from a Northern Renaissance tradition and is called "grisaille". You see Henry Ford teaching a class in these grisaille panels. Just like in Northern Renaissance altarpieces that represent the patrons of the work; this work shows Edsel Ford (the president of Ford) and William Valentine (the head of the Art Institute) in these grisaille panels. The allegorical top panel represent the universal concept of man in people of different races. The entire wall is symmetrical in balance and changes scale, from the large panels on top to the smaller, more intimate imagery in the panels on the bottom.

Rivera's preparation for this project was intense - he photographed and studied the Ford Motor Plant for months in order to capture the true spirit of the manufacturing process. He made sure to include the people and businesses of Detroit into his imagery, but it included a stylized imagery that would appeal and relate to anyone who viewed it. This allowed the artist to portray an Ideal vision of Detroit which produced abundance and harmony. Because the Great Depression had crippled the city and slowed it's production, this public work of art was meant to help heal the spirit of the people and the city. His work was intended to satisfy the patron who commissioned it, but it was also meant to touch the spirit and souls of the people of Detroit.


winner said...

Like your blog'S style!! Please keep on working hard. ^^

Anonymous said...

PBS recently ran a story about Diego Rivera in my area. It was produced several years ago and it is still very good to see. I recommend it.