Corcoran Gallery of Art

Washington, DC



Larry Rivers: Art and the Artist


The first comprehensive international retrospective of Larry Rivers' art, Larry Rivers: Art and the Artist marks a long-overdue examination of his work. Spanning five decades of Rivers' career, this exhibition features paintings and sculpture, as well as works on paper. Larry Rivers: Art and the Artist is on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from May 18 through July 22, 2002. (left: Larry Rivers, Modernist Times, Charlie Tightening the Bolts, 1989-1995, oil on canvas mounted on sculpted foamcore, Private Collection, New York)

"For much of his career, Rivers was seen by observers and critics as a revolutionary deliberately opposing prevailing movements for the thrill of challenging the status quo," says Jacquelyn Serwer, Chief Curator at the Corcoran. "By now we can see Rivers' rebellious moves as those of a true innovator whose once subversive ideas have become part of the accepted repertoire of contemporary art."

Often identified as a "Pop" pioneer in the late 1950s, Rivers has become one of most important artists in the figurative tradition.

"Larry Rivers' work spans fifty years of restless exploration, consummate skill and deep insight," says Corcoran President and Director David C. Levy. "Artist, musician, intellectual, and friend, he is one of the great creative talents of our time and has made a lasting and profound contribution to our cultural heritage."

Including works spanning more than 50 years, Art and the Artist is divided into five thematic sections - Personal History, History and Politics, the French Connection, Art and Artists, and Show Business.

Personal History highlights portraits of close family members, fellow artists and friends, as well as works commemorating significant periods in Rivers' life. For instance, his Double Portrait of Berdie (1955) depicts a startlingly frank, life-size nude study of his mother-in-law. By showing two views of the figure simultaneously, Rivers broke all acceptable rules for avant-garde art of the time.

History and Politics demonstrates Rivers' innovative approach to traditional historical subjects, such as the Russian Revolution and the Holocaust. Primo Levi Witness (1988) represents several aspects of the Italian author and Holocaust survivor's experiences during World War II. Rivers depicts Levi as an older man, healthy and serene, with another image superimposed of a much younger Levi, in a striped concentration camp uniform, emotionally and physically devastated. (right: Larry Rivers, Primo Levi Witness, 1988, oil on canvas, La Stampa, Turin, Italy)

The French Connection illustrates the influence of French masters such as Courbet, David and Manet on Rivers. Profoundly affected by French literature and art, Rivers has also produced a wide-range of Gallic-inspired works.

Art and Artists highlights Rivers' interpretations of Old Master works, such as Rembrandt's Syndics of the Clothmaker's Guild and modern works, such as Matisse's Harmony in Red. Rivers often selects another artist's characteristic work and then paints his own version of it with the artist's portrait included in the composition.

As a jazz musician and off-Broadway actor, Rivers developed a passion for Show Business; he frequently incorporates Hollywood performers and images in his work. For instance, Rivers offers a commentary on the machine age with Modernist Times I (1988) by depicting Charlie Chaplin lying on top of a giant gear in the midst of a complex network of other gears and industrial imagery.

Larry Rivers, born Yitzroch Loiza (Irving) Grossberg in 1925, has spent most of his life in New York City. He has been a key figure in New York's art world ever since he presented his first solo show in 1949. He began his career as a jazz musician and at the suggestion of a friend began to paint under the tutelage of the noted Abstract Expressionist painter and teacher, Hans Hoffman.

A Google search on the Web will uncover a wealth of images of Rivers' work. A name search will also reveal extensive biographical information. Here is a biographical excerpt from, a guide to twentieth Century and contemporary visual art:

...[Rivers'] first encounter with fine art was through a musical motif based on a painting by Georges Braque. He began painting in 1945. In 1947-48 he studied at the Hans Hofmann School. In 1948 he studied under William Baziotes at New York University and met Willem de Kooning. In 1949 he had his first one-man exhibition at the Jane Street Gallery, New York. In 1951 he graduated in art from New York University and met Jackson Pollock. His works were subsequently shown by John Myers until 1963...

In connection with a 1999 exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in New York City, the gallery quoted critic John Gruen, who wrote:

"Early on, Rivers had developed a painting style he could call his own. It might be categorized as being semi-abstract, semi­realistic, pop-artish, post-romantic, or neo-classic. But whatever the label, it reflected (and still does) an untrammeled imagination, an extraordinary draughtsmanship,a color sense that has no truck with garishness or vulgarity, and an innate vitality that springs from Rivers' own restlessness and reflects itself with charged-up spontaneity, into whatever he paints."


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Resource Library.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Larry Rivers, Public & Private is a 75 minute film from the Museum of Modern Art. Larry Rivers is known for his outspokenness, irreverence, and wit. Here Rivers appropriates images of historically established masterpieces and transforms them according to his personal vision.

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's Videos -DVD/VHS, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format.

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Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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