Last week, I had the privilege of attending a private event, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, at the Detroit Insititute of Arts. The building itself was an impressive, classical-style building that reminded me of the Art Institute of Chicago and other fine art museums I’ve visitied around the world. I had no idea that Detroit had such a grand and historic art museum.
The reception was held in the Diego Rivera Courtyard, which housed four walls of fresco paintings entitled “Detroit Industry” and were really incredible to see.
During the reception, we were welcomed by Edsel Ford II, Henry Ford’s great-grandson. Mr. Ford acted as an unofficial ambassador to Detroit, explaining some of the rich history of the city and its relationship to the auto industry, particularly as it was represented in the mural and building that surrounded us.
Henry Ford’s son Edsel commissioned the Rivera mural in the 1930s and was met with some criticism at the time. It was a bit odd that the leading industrialist of the time would select an avowed Marxist to depict the inner workings of the Ford Rouge River Plant and its relationship to the city and its people.
The mural was considered scandalous for the depictions of nudity, religious iconography, and multi-racial workforce. It represented the merging of man and machine, steel and flesh in a gritty depiction of the life of the common worker. A Detroit News editorial at the time of the original unveiling called the murals “coarse in conception … foolishly vulgar … a slander to Detroit workmen … un-American.” The writer urged that the murals be destroyed.
The Ford Family, however, would not allow it, and understood the symbolism of the relationship of industry to the lifeblood of the city. Detroits rise and fall cycles with the rise and fall of the auto industry, in sync with the birth and death imagery depicted in the murals.
Henry Ford himself is also depicted, as a kind of grand architect, overseeing the works. There are so many details and nuances to the work, that you could spend days looking at different parts and never get bored.
I had not been to Detroit for any length of time since I was a child, other than the occasional airport transfer. Detroit has gotten a great deal of bad press over the years, and generally not high on lists of places to visit. During my short stay there, I was delighted by the excellent service, friendly people, and impressive variety of things to do, from visiting the fine art museum to touring the actual Rouge River Plant. I hope with the auto industry turnaround, Detroit has only brighter days ahead.
Ford Motor Company paid for my travel and accommodations at the 2-day Driving Green Technology event, I was not compensated in any other manner for my time. My opinions posted here are my own.