Yesterday, I wrote about the mural controversy in Maine where the work depicting the history of labor was removed from a state building. It made me think of other murals and immediately brought to mind the work ofDiego Rivera,who I have written briefly about here before and who was arguably the greatest muralist of recent history. Rivera’s work often focused on the struggle of the worker.
The Mexican Rivera (1886-1957) was an ardent Marxist who saw the mural as a way to to make expressive art available to the masses, away from the confines of museums and galleries which he saw as elitist. But it took money to commission his masterpieces so he was often working with those powerful forces that he often eyed with suspicion. There were episodes where the two sides bumped heads, the most famous coming when his mural at Rockefeller Plaza in NYC was destroyed because of his inclusion of Lenin in the mural and his subsequent refusal to remove it.
The work he considered his finest was centered around the worker and the industry of America. In 1932-33, Rivera painted , under the auspices ofHenry Ford (who is depicted in the mural) and at the height of the Great Depression, an epic mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Covering more than 447 square yards, Detroit Industry is massive. It is filled with vibrant imagery depicting the worker, in both a heroic and subservient manner, as integral cogs in the rhythmic throb of the busy industrial world. It is a feast for the eyes.
I have always been drawn to Rivera’s work on a gut level, drawn in by his gorgeous color and exciting composition. When I see his grand murals I am deeply humbled and this work is no different. I am pleased that it has survived the changing tides of political favor without somebody suggesting it be painted over. If anything, it should remain if only as a reminder of the part the worker has played in building the wealth of this country at a time when the American worker is quickly overlooked by industry in favor of cheaper, unregulated labor on distant shores.
Here’s a video showing the scope of Rivera’s work. As an artist, I am both inspired and intimidated by the sheer amount of amazing work here.