Diego Rivera, “Automotive Assembly Line”, Detail of One of Twenty-Seven Fresco Panels, North Wall, Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
When the Mexican artist Diego Rivera arrived in Detroit in 1932 to paint the walls at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the city was a leading industrial center of the world. It was also the city that was hit the hardest by the Great Depression. Industrial production and the workforce were a third of what they had been before the 1929 Crash.
The space Rivera was given to paint was aligned on an east/west/north/south axis. Rivera utilized this architectural orientation in a symbolic way. The manufacture of the 1932 Ford V-8 at the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge plant is captured in the two major panels on the north and south walls.
On the north wall, Rivera captured all the processes related to the assembly of the motor. The blast furnace glows orange and red at extreme temperatures to make molten steel that is poured into molds to make ingots that are then milled into sheets. All the major processes related to the manufacture of the motor of the car from mold-making in the upper left to the final assembly of the motor on the assembly line in the foreground are accurately rendered with engineering precision.
Diego Rivera wove the processes together through the use of the serpentine conveyors and assembly lines. The composition is grounded by two rows of white milling machines that stand as sentinels in the center of the wall and march into the background to the blast furnace.