Front Cover – Diego Rivera – Detroit Industry
Fresco – North Wall
Diego Rivera – 1886 – 1957
If Manchester can be considered the trail blazer of 19th century industrial capitalism then surely in the 20th the baton was passed to Detroit. Henry Ford’s production line changed the world. And oddly, each location attracted the attention of a commie saint. Manchester was firmly nailed as a monstrous, meat-grinding shithole in Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England 1844 while Detroit got memorialised by the greatest muralist of his time, Diego Rivera.
Rivera was fascinated by American technology and knew enough about engineering and science to create convincing images of the 1932 Ford 8 production line. The art establishment was shocked by this invasion of the museum by rude mechanicals. They were wary of Rivera’s political agenda and seemed set to have the massive frescoes destroyed until Edsel Ford himself stepped in to save them. Rivera was right to consider these murals his greatest achievement. His next production – a series on the new society – included a portrait of Lenin to which his patron, Rockefeller, took exception. Rivera refused to remove it and those murals were destroyed.
His kind of didactic, social realism became unfashionable with the rise of cubism (remember that?) but maybe we’re in for a revival. The art publisher Taschen has produced a monumental book on these works – more a coffee table than a coffee table book, it just needs legs. Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals a 674 page hardback measuring 18” x 12” x 3.5” thick. At a mere £135 it’s probably cheaper than a flight to Detroit.