The DIA’s Court – Before and After Diego Rivera

The Main Court at the DIA, c. 1929.

The Main Court at the DIA, c. 1929.

Detroiters, visitors and art lovers from around the world adore Diego Rivera’s frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA); Rivera Court is a treasure by any standard. Rivera created this masterpiece in 1932-33, so you’d have to be around 90 years of age today to remember how the court looked before he arrived.

That’s where this great postcard from the DHS collection comes into play. This is what Rivera saw when he arrived; the artwork for two walls (pictured here right and left) were all he was originally commissioned to create. But once he saw the space, he envisioned so much more, with frescoes climbing up all four walls to the ceiling. (Fortunately, his benefactors Edsel Ford and DIA Director William Valentiner agreed with his vision and funded it in full.) It’s quite amazing to see how “empty” this old court looks now, knowing what it looks like now. To Rivera, it must have appeared as a huge canvas just waiting for him and his brushes.

Rivera Court

Rivera Court today

The current DIA exhibit “Diego and Frida in Detroit” displays many original Kahlo pieces alongside Rivera’s original sketches for these murals. Looking at this postcard of the original court, and Rivera’s large sketches, you can almost envision the inner workings of his mind as he put his ideas together. Exhibit visitors get to see the original sketch of the one mural he changed, and discover the reason behind the revision.

But Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo weren’t the only artists in town during the 1930s. Detroit has long been a hotbed of creativity, and artists of all kinds continue to flock here. The Detroit Historical Society is currently showcasing several artists from the 1930s in its exhibit “Detroiters Paint Detroit: 1930s,” a collection of urban landscapes, open now through October 2015. This DHS show and the DIA Rivera-Kahlo exhibit are just across the street from each other, so take them both in and get a rich picture of what Detroit was like during this exciting (and tumultuous) era.