Detroit, which I'm sure most of you know, is facing bankruptcy, is having the great collection of art housed in the Detroit Institute of Art evaluated by Christies for possible sale to pay off debts. There's an article in the Art and Design section of the New York Times about this.
In the NY Times, Diego Rivera's name falls at the end of a very short list of great painters: Bruegel and Van Gogh and Diego Rivera. There are many more who could be included.
Today in La Jornada, you can find an article by Mexico's David Brooks about the Rivera piece, in fact a large mural painted in1932-1933 before the more-famous Rivera mural (famous because of its destruction) in Rockefeller Center. This PBS piece is a nice summary of that brouhaha.
The mural in Detroit is two stories high and called "Detroit's Industry". Not only does it portray workers and steel and machinery, it has tender side pieces as you can see here. Here is a link to a virtual tour of the mural.
As the mural in Rockefeller Center did a couple of years later, the one in Detroit provoked controversy. In Detroit it was religious as well as social and political. After all, Rivera was an avowed communist. Among other accusations, it was said the piece "fomented ´class warfare', that it made fun of Jesus, that it promoted racial equality and that it was Marxist propaganda." The principle daily newspaper of the time, The Detroit News, wanted it destroyed. Thankfully, that didn't happen.
Things have changed in Detroit. Today the majority of its citizens want the art kept. The state´s attorney general has said that it is a charitable trust and as such can't be sold to pay off the debts of the city. But it's still notclear that it will be preserved for the city. It is possible that the art will be put in opposition to the city workers' pensions: keep the art or pay the retired workers.
Brooks points to the dedication at the entrance of the DIA: Dedicated to the people of Detroit for the knowledge and enjoyment of art." That so many people in Detroit want the art to stay in the face of the obvious suffering of the city is remarkable. This is a debate worth having. Art held in the name of the people, for the people: does it help when people are poor?