Saturday, March 31, 2018


Being a huge baseball fan, I couldn't resist swinging by the Detroit Institute of Arts to check out a temporary exhibit called PLAY BALL! BASEBALL AT THE DIA. My daughter agreed to spend some family time with her good ole dad and joined me on a trek to Midtown Detroit to visit the art museum.  Of course while there we had to stop in the Rivera Court to look around the renowned Detroit Industry Murals.

There are 27 panels within one particular room of the DIA known as the Rivera Court making up the Detroit Industry Murals. Created by Diego Rivera (1886 - 1957) who developed a reputation for constructing grand fresco masterpieces, the Mexican artist considered these fresco murals the best work of his career.  Frescos are made by painting on wet plaster so that colors and images penetrate the plaster and become fixed upon a wall as it dries.  Thus this artwork has become a permanent fixture within the court they were created in and have captivated generations of visitors to the DIA since Rivera completed them in 1933.

We had an exceptional experience during our visit interacting with an enthusiastic docent who shared a number of interesting facts and secrets about the murals in the Rivera Court.  He explained Rivera was attempting to depict through this artwork how industry and technology had become the indigenous culture of Detroit which was having a transcendent impact upon its population.  It was also pointed out that Ford Motor Company is prominently featured within the murals partly because they were a cornerstone of the city's economy in the 1930s and also due to Edsel Ford donating a significant portion of money to the museum that assisted with covering the artist's commission.  The two main panels of the murals that cover the north and south walls of the room depict workers laboring at Ford's River Rouge manufacturing plant.

Here are a few secrets that were shared with us about the Detroit Industry Murals during our visit that we wouldn't have garnered by looking at the artwork without some insider trivia from this friendly docent:

There are a number of automotive parts and partially constructed cars within the murals, but only one fully completed vehicle.  A little red car buried in the backdrop of the assembly line imagery within the primary panel on the room's southern wall.

There is a small panel which depicts Henry Ford showcasing a new engine design to a number of men.  As a tie-in to his own heritage, Rivera meant this engine is meant to look like a Xoloitzcuintli, a hairless dog often referred to as Xolos, that are considered national treasures of Mexico.  My daughter was excited by this fact knowing that a Xolo was also featured in one of her favorite films, COCO , the Disney Pixar feature which won this year's Oscar Award for Best Animated Movie.  The docent was impressed that she was familiar with these dogs and that this tidbit of information peaked her interest in learning more about the frescos.

In another nod to his own heritage, Rivera altered the original appearance of a stamping press because he thought its appearance resembled an Aztec statue unearthed in the 18th century which folk lore accuses of cursing Mexico City with death and destruction.  So he altered the machine's appearance to instead resemble the goddess Cuatlicue who was worshiped by the Aztecs for maintaining order in the universe.

The docent pointed out in another panel how the image of a businessman was a mash up of portraits of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford uniting the two friends, inventors and captains of industry into one caricature.

The DIA's Rivera Court was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior in 2014 due to the historical significance of these spectacular frescos honoring the dynamism of early 20th century industrialism created by an artist considered to be the foremost muralist of the Depression era.  If you haven't seen these vibrant murals firsthand, it is absolutely worth a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts to get a glimpse of them. Hopefully you'll have the chance to speak with as outstanding of a docent as we were blessed to have run into to help pull you into the artwork you are seeing.

For more information about visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts, go to

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