High Drama in Detroit: Diego and Frida

By Hope Palmer

Detroit in 1932 marked an important milestone in the careers of both Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Diego ventured into uncharted territory with daringly new subject matter, and Frida Kahlo’s fledgling career took off. Although every facet of these two painters’ lives has seemingly been examined, the significance of that single year in Detroit has not been fully recognized. Detroit represented a major elevation in both of their careers, which was ultimately followed by a moderation of Rivera’s thematic ambitions and Kahlo’s meteoric ascent in terms of fame and accomplishment.

“Diego Does Detroit: The Rivera Murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts”
By Hope Palmer
Mon, Aug 3, 5pm
Bellas Artes
Hernández Macías 75
100 pesos donation to the San Miguel International Music Festival

Allowed to let loose his creative impulses on the vast walls of an existing atrium in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Rivera melded Mexican natural resources, iconography, and spirituality with American industrial might and innovation. It proved to be a dazzling combination. Diego’s masterpiece “Detroit Industry” is an idealized ode to the city in 27 frescoes. Over 11 months, Rivera researched, designed, and painted murals that cover the four vaulted walls of the museum’s courtyard, known forever after as the Rivera Court. All told, the “Detroit Industry” frescoes are probably as close as America comes to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.


Kahlo’s time in Detroit was equally important although she made it quite clear that she did not enjoy her stay. The miscarriage she suffered while in the city spurred the searing form of self-representation that is her contribution to art history

This presentation will focus on the period, personalities, and paintings that helped to form this now almost mythical artistic couple. Diego’s Detroit murals, a colossal period piece, still speak eloquently to viewers who stand silently in a kind of cathedral. Frida’s small, intimate paintings stand in stark contrast as portable altarpieces for private devotion. Their combined artistic production during a highly complicated and emotionally draining period remains among their most enduring masterpieces.

The lecture takes place Monday, August 3, at 5pm in the lecture hall in the Bellas Artes. Tickets are 100 pesos. All proceeds benefit the San Miguel International Music Festival. Tickets are available at the Festival office on the second floor of the Bellas Artes or at the door.

This lecture, part of the series entitled Art:Works! Insights by Art Historians, was created by  Kahren Arbitman and myself to support the San Miguel International Music Festival, which this August celebrates its 37th consecutive season.

Please mark your calendar for Kahren Arbitman’s upcoming lecture, “What is Baroque, Anyway?” on Monday, August 10, 5pm, Bellas Artes lecture hall.

I hold an MFA and am a former art history professor and longtime artist.


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