Diego Rivera, 20th century artist and husband to Frida Kahlo, painted the piece “Frozen Assets” in 1931. Rivera’s piece is a depiction of the economic instability of New York City in the 1930s, and shows viewers the effects of the Great Depression in the northeastern United States.
Overview: “Frozen Assets” gives a view of New York City life for different people The dark and dull colors used in the painting give an impression that the city is in a depressed state.
Parts: The piece is split into three parts, the upper being a view of the Manhattan skyline. In the center is a man looking over rows of bodies, and below that a group of people at work while the guard locks the building up. Parts of the city is under construction, and the point of view is from the not-so-luxurious outskirts. Those who are sleeping in the shed are sleeping on concrete and being watched by a guard, packed in tight and without much comfort. In the bank offices, the people in the waiting area appear much more wealthy than those who sleep in the portion of the painting above them, showing a clear divide between lifestyles in the era.
Title: While the title of the piece “Frozen Assets” is a literal description for the bank’s waiting room in the lower section, it is also a metaphor for the economic state of the city as depicted in the painting during the Great Depression.
Interpretation: The piece is trying to show how people in NYC were affected by such nationwide economic downfall. Rows of the homeless sleep in a shelter, the city has lost its luxurious glow, and the wealthy keep close eyes on their money. The divide between upper and lower class has been widened even more by the 1929 stock market crash.
Context: The Great Depression, lasting from 1929-1939, began during the stock market crash of ’29, and from then on millions struggled as they lost their jobs and finances, unable to feed their families. Thousands of banks closed across the country, and the unemployment rate was around 20%. Breadlines, soup kitchens, and a high volume of homeless people became the norm for many industrial U.S. cities. The Social Security Act of 1935 helped bring families out of poverty, and the call for the production of weapons for WWII in 1941 brought jobs back to industrial regions, gradually lowering the unemployment rate.
Conclusion: Rivera’s painting of a depressed New York City depicts just how poor the economic state even in powerful cities like New York City was between World Wars I and II. In class, as we learn about these wars and their political, cultural, and economic effects, we also look at how nations remained intact in-between these periods. For the U.S., as warfare production was a major economic boost, the time in-between these wars was a rude awakening for the country and its millions of workers.