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Exploring Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals via touch-screen

Senior designer Mollie Bates recently spent four days touring Detroit, the most amount of time ever spent there by this Michigan native.

The Detroit Institute of Arts provides visitors with a great new way to discover an old masterpiece. During my visit to the DIA last month, I spent over half an hour perusing a multimedia tour of Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals on a loaner iPad. The devices are available to all guests willing to leave their ID and a credit card with employees. Rivera painted the massive, four-sided mural directly onto the walls of the DIA from 1932-33. The iPad allowed me to view a series of videos explaining the mural at my own pace. Over 60-minutes of video show archival footage of Rivera painting the mural on site, and explain the multi-step process of making a fresco.

Rivera’s mural exposes strong opinions about man and technology in the early 1930s, but they were a bit confusing for this 21st-century viewer to interpret. The iPad app guides the viewer through yin and yang comparisons in the piece. For example, Rivera devotes one panel to men in WWI-inspired gas masks manufacturing poison, but pairs it with a panel showing a positive use of chemistry: making vaccinations. The app helped me understand his ultimate message: machines can make good or bad things, but it’s people’s responsibility to guide production.

Today, Rivera might appreciate the positive use of technology as a tool to reveal meaning in his most successful work.

View Detroit Industry with this stunning 360° viewer. You can explore the tour online, but it just won’t be the same as being there!