Unlike most museums, ran by nonprofits, the Detroit Institute of Art’s $2 billion collection is owned by the City, which in turn makes it seizable by creditors following its declaration of bankruptcy–and it is this precise issue that art historian and activist Gregorio Luke wants to address at the next  Mural Under the Stars at the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA).

“One of the essential parts of the Detroit’s collection are the murals Diego Rivera painted in 1932 at the Detroit Institute of Art,” Luke said. “These and all the other parts of the Institute’s art are subject to the creditors that are trying to collect their debt.”

In this vein, he has shifted his lecture–prepared over the past year–towards a dedication to these specific murals as well as other Diego Rivera works.

The importance of the Detroit Industry murals, at least according to Luke, lie in their depiction of the industrialization process that shifted America’s economy into a world power. The twenty-seven fresco panels, completed in a mere 11 months by Rivera, showcase a sad irony contemporaneously: the tribute to Detroit’s manufacturing base and labor force now seem like a distant dream in the face of the city’s famed financial collapse. 

“These murals are symbols of working people all over the world,” Luke said. “It would be extremely sad if they ended up in private hands.”

Another factor in the possible privatization of the murals is that Rivera was a huge opponent of private galleries in that he felt art belonged to the public, which explains his obsession with large, public-accessible walls.

During the upcoming event, some of these panels will be projected in their life-size glory for the audience to virtually experience their grandness while Luke provides historical context and significance through his lecture. This contextualization also includes that, beyond the work of Rivera, the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection–one of the largest in the world–holds pieces that belong to the public.

“We’re talking Rembrandts, Van Goghs, Rodins, Picassos,” Luke said. “From a typical point of view, yes, they are an asset of the City like any other part. But right now, the most important thing is to create political pressure to protect the integrity of the entire collection.”

Mural Under the Stars, with its focus on the work of Diego Rivera, will take place this Saturday at MoLAA, located at 628 Alamitos Avenue. The program begins at 8PM. Premium tickets are $30 for non-members and $25 for members; general tickets are $20, $15 for members and $10 for students. For tickets call (562) 437-1789 or go to www.molaa.org/programs-and-events.aspx

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