Monday, March 16, 2015

Rivera and Kahol in Detroit

This weekend the Detroit Institute of Arts opens their special exhibit on Diego Rivera and Freda Kahol. The focus is on their time in Detroit between July 1832 and March 1933 when Mexican born Diego Rivera (1886-1957) created his masterpiece mural Detroit Industry. As members of the museum we were able to attend a preview for the show which opens March 15 and runs through July 12, 2015. The exhibit includes cartoons of the murals, videos, and art by both Rivera and Kahol.

Edsel B. Ford, son of Henry Ford and Ford heir, and William Valentiner, director of the DIA, commissioned Rivera for the project. Rivera was paid $25,000.
 Edsel B. Ford, who donated $10,000, and William Valentiner, Director of the DIA, who commissioned the project
Rivera spent months studying the Detroit factories and labs. He then put in 16 hour days painting. He lost 100 pounds. Rivera Court is impressive. How the artist managed to do the work in eight months is unthinkable. (

Ford was amazed that Rivera caught all the details and complexity of the Rouge River Plant and assembly lines.

 "Edsel Ford was carried away by the accurate rendering of machinery in motion and by the clearness of the composition, which was not confused by the great number of workmen represented, each occupied with his assigned job. The function of the machinery was so well understood that when engineers looked at the finished murals they found each part accurately designed…",-1932-large.html
Rivera  arrived in Detroit in the middle of the Depression. He was a Marxist and his work elevates the role of the worker. When Rivera completed the mural in 1933 some were outraged by the murals and wanted them whitewashed. A Detroit News editorial called it coarse, vulgar, and "un-American." It is now a National Historic Landmark.
"I admire Rivera's spirit. I really believe he was trying to express his ideal of the spirit of Detroit." Edsel Ford
10,000 people came to see the murals. People were amazed and proud to see their work captured in art. The common man saved Rivera's work.
Dear Master,Please, give me the permission to express my grateful thanks for the greatness of your feeling and understanding in all your great work, this, your own creation as I stand here and see it with my old eyes that labored for 45 years for others with no other recognition in this corrupt society than just to be called a ‘hand.’Therefore useful workers of the world, for the first time in the history of mankind, shall honor you as the first great artist of understanding, and with your great help the workers of the world will take their place. Wishing you a healthy, joyful life.Respectfully, Louis Gluck. For 45 years a wood carver.(
See details about Rivera Court here.

During this time Freda Kahol was painting, developing a new style, and suffered a miscarriage.
Rivera and Kahol,
The exhibit begins with her pencil sketch of that depicts a bus accident that left her badly injured when she was only 18 years old. She was in a full body cast for months. Later in the exhibit we see her painting that depicted her post-miscarriage experience at Henry Ford Hospital. She also had polio as a child and perhaps was born with spina bifida. It was moving to know what she had endured. Rivera changed a portion of the mural from depicting farming to depicting a healthy fetus in the womb.

 Kahol and Rivera had a stormy and complex relationship which is only hinted at.

I enjoyed seeing the artist's paintings not related to their time in Detroit. There is a beautiful painting of Rivera's daughter from his first marriage; she holds a bronze mirror.

We also enjoyed seeing Make A Joyful Noise, Renaissance Art and Music at Florence Cathedral which runs through May 167, 2015. Included were illuminated, over-sized choral books that took six years to create and reliefs from the singing gallery created by Luca della Robbia.

See Rivera's paintings at

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