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— It was a 83 years ago this week that 10,000 people jammed the Detroit Institute of Arts to see the new Diego Rivera murals that debuted amid cries the modern art was "un-American," "vulgar'' and needed to be destroyed, according to press accounts of the day.

On Sunday, hundreds filled the the DIA for the official public opening of the "Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit," an exhibit that celebrates the Detroit-produced art created by Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, who surpassed Rivera in popularity decades ago.

This weekend, there was no sign of controversy, only pride and awe for the works by the two Mexican artists. Critics contend Rivera's "Detroit Industry" murals is one of the highlights in his remarkable career and Detroit is where an unknown, 25-year-old Kahlo created her first masterpieces.

"That was just pretty great. How can you not be proud to be from Detroit after seeing that?" said Milton Leigh of Detroit. "It's a creed here, you know; the crazier it gets, the more it inspires creativity. So, I was just like: 'Wow, maybe it is true.' Because that was some crazy time and they both transcended."

Leigh, 37, and his partner, Anna Noxon, were among the hundreds who went early to the Sunday debut. It was not clear if the show had sold out on its opening day but tickets were selling at a brisk rate. Tickets were being offered in staggered times throughout the day in half-hour intervals. For much of the day, many of those blocks were sold out, officials said.

Earlier last week, there were special previews for museum members and other guests, and each of those events sold out, attracting hundreds for each event.

"Diego and Frida" offers a rare chance to see Rivera's preparatory mural drawings — huge charcoal-and-pigment cartoons usually kept in DIA and too fragile to leave the museum. It also marks the return of some of the Detroit paintings created by Kahlo. She now is one of the most popular artists in the world.

Marianna Petrovich, 42, a native Detroiter who lives in Chicago, came to see Kahlo's Detroit work and wasn't disappointed.

"She is fearless and I love her," Petrovich said. "The Diego work you admire on a intellectual level, but Frida takes your breath away.'"

The DIA has high expectations for the show, which runs until July 12. A 1986 Rivera retrospective at the DIA drew 228,000 visitors, a record for the museum at the time. Museum officials say they hope the current show will pull in at least 200,000, far more than any recent DIA special exhibitions.

"If this show doesn't attract a lot of attention," said Vince Carducci, a dean at the College for Creative Studies and editor of the online Motown Review of Art, "it would be a huge shock."

The show has gotten a good amount of media attention nationally and internationally. Art critics from the Washington Post and Boston Globe have praised the exhibit. And there also has been coverage from media in Canada, Asia and Latin America.

laguilar@detroitnews.com

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN

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