Diego Rivera often worked big, but even after seeing Man At The Crossroads in Mexico City and Pan American Unity in San Francisco, I was unprepared for his colossal Detroit Industry, consisting of 27 panels painted over 11 months during 1932-33.
As with other Rivera works, the Detroit Industry frescoes have, at one time or another been denounced as secular, pro-communist and overly pessimistic. On this last point, it was probably difficult to be optimistic in 1932.
The majority of the panels show factory work at Ford’s River Rouge plant, some with rather sinister looking supervisors.
Also represented are Detroit’s aviation and pharmaceutical industries. One panel depicts vaccination. There are also nude fertility symbols. In short, there is something to offend almost everyone. A theme that runs through the paintings is the positive and negative effects of technology.
Suffice to say that any student of the machine age must make a pilgrimage to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see the Diego Rivera courtyard. For a detailed description of each fresco, see the excellent pages at Bluffton University.