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Larry Rivers

Born, 1923

One of artist Larry Rivers most significant undertakings was Some American History, a bold and hugely important exhibition conceived by him and hosted by the Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Houston Texas, February 1971. It was in effect a major exhibition of work - a large multi-media installation - by Rivers, supplemented with contribiutions by Ellsworth Ausby, Peter Bradley, Frank Bowling, Daniel LaRue Johnson, Joe Overstreet, and William T. Williams, The exhibition was commissioned by the Menil Foundation, and sought to animate aspects of race within American history. The boldness of the exhibition owed much to the central presence within the exhibition of the work of Rivers, a white Jewish artist whose practice frequently incorporated images of Black people and issues relating to African American history. As such, Some American History created a curatorial model that has still, thirty years on, not been widely embraced by a gallery network that by and large insists that only ‘Black’ artists ought to address ‘Black’ issues or ‘Black’ audiences. Slavery, lynchings, the skewed sexualisation of the Black woman, the poets and prophets of the Black Power movement, these and other subjects were boldly taken up by Rivers, in his distinctive Pop Art influences montages, mixed media pieces and assemblage sculptures.

The exhibition came with an invaluable catalogue, including a hugely important essay by Charles Childs, which opened with “In the turbulent dialectic of black peoples’ drives to affirm their own cultural identity, the idea of having a white artist comment on black subject matter, on first glance, seems unacceptable. Yet, one of the most famous artists of this generation, Larry Rivers, has pursued just this sort of endeavor and questions as to his intent and motivation say more about the “hang ups” in all of us than they do about just what, precisely, Larry Rivers is up to.”

The catalogue featured many colour plates, others in black and white, archival images, all interspersed with quotations from the likes of W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and others.

Larry Rivers undertook a number of distinctive and empathetic portraits of the firebrand poet, writer, playwright and activist LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka. One such work, ‘Portrait of LeRoi Jones’ 1964 was reproduced in Keith Piper’s ‘Relocating the Remains’ catalogue, the main text of which was written by Kobena Mercer. The chapter in which the work appears is ‘Art’s Histories and Culture’s Geographies: 1979 - 1985’.

Related items

click to show details of Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century

»  Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century

Book relating to a publication, 1997

click to show details of Relocating the Remains

»  Relocating the Remains

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

click to show details of Some American History - card

»  Some American History - card

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 1971

click to show details of Some American History - catalogue

»  Some American History - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1971

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Art Gallery, Rice University

Houston, Texas, United States of America