Larry Rivers – An American-European Dialogue
10.11.2019 – 12.01.2020
The American painter, musician and filmmaker Larry Rivers (1923-2002) is considered one of the most influential artists of the New York art scene in the 1950s-1970s. Already in the 1950s, he was one of the pioneers of pop art and influenced not only its most central figure Andy Warhol, but also a number of other artists in America as well as in Europe. Many of his own works from those years, however, reflect the immense influence of the important historical works of art and masters as well as some contemporaries have exercised on him. The way in which Larry Rivers dealt with painting, and later with assemblages, found objects and media culture, consistently shows that Larry Rivers used art primarily as a medium of reflection. For Rivers, the immediate quotation is significant, whereby the object and the manner of painting are as it were transparent and are present as components within their own new pictorial context. Sometimes painting and quoting are loosely connected, which makes the adaptation all the more obvious. He has often crossed traditional boundaries.
Larry Rivers comes first through the music (he studied from 1945-1946 at the famous Juilliard School of Music in New York, along with Miles Davis, with whom he was friends throughout his life) to painting, as he 1947-1948 at the von Hans Hofmann founded School of Fine Arts. He gets in contact with the artists of Abstract Expressionism through his teachers at an early age, ia. with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. He soon became a lifelong friend of de Kooning. First, however, he continues his studies from 1949 to 1951 at New York University as a student of William Baziotes.
Initially linked to abstract expressionism, he turned increasingly to figuration from the late 1940s and from the 1950s onward explored materials such as plaster, cement and metal, which he all uses for his sculptural works. John Chamberlain and he use u.a. the same car wreck material to make sculptures out of it. However, early on, after encountering the French impressionism that he had come to know through the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at New York’s MoMA in 1948, he not only decided to paint his painting, but even to go to Paris himself, where until now was still the center of contemporary art.
Invited by art dealers to Paris and London for exhibitions, he resides in Paris between 1961 and 1962, where he meets Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle. Even before he goes to Paris, he sends his work “Last Civil War Veteran” there, which is immediately absorbed by the art market. His “Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson”, which was written for Tate Britain in 1962, was bought by him in the same year. Between Rivers and Tinguely some collaborations develop, especially when the finds are used for the creation of sculptures. In the 1960s, however, he again expanded his palette and artistic expression by using elements of wood or cardboard or even electric light. The stay in Paris leads to a decisive turn in his painterly style, which now on the one hand includes more pop art, which is certainly the clearest expression in the included typography of letters, words or numbers. In addition, Tinguely and Rivers are working together on a number of works that intentionally include non-specific art materials in their composition.
For Larry Rivers, his stay in Paris meant a rise in his artistic career, as Larry River’s participation in documenta III in Kassel followed in 1964. It marks the beginning of a series of three participations: the documenta IV follows in 1968 and the documenta VII in 1977. They all manifest their high reputation and esteem in the European art scene.
The Ludwig Museum Koblenz presents Larry Rivers’ first solo exhibition in Germany after 40 years. The exhibition, which was planned in close collaboration with the Larry Rivers Foundation, opens with numerous loans from museum and private collections from the United States a look at the diverse oeuvre of the artist, in which up to date current topics such as sexuality and society, politics or Racism find its place. The focus here is on Rivers’ engagement with traditional French painting at the end of the 19th century in tense relation to Abstract Expressionism, as well as the artistic dialogue between Larry Rivers and the poet Frank O’Hara and his fellow artists and friends Willem de Kooning, and Jean Tinguely, whose central works accentuate the collection of the Ludwig Museum in Koblenz. Rivers is about a crossover of art, about transgressing the boundaries between two-dimensional painting and the object and about the sheer desire to make oneself visible as a conceptual and conceptual foil of one’s own art by citing from other contexts.
The encounter with these and other artists and creatives of his time was as crucial as the historical role models from the French school of Impressionism to Rembrandt. For this very reason, the exhibition does not consider itself a retrospective, but explores precisely this dialogical relationship of tension. The exhibition aims to provide a conceptually focused perspective on Larry Rivers’ art, which sees itself as a dialogue and bridge between American and French positions. It does not so much clarify the shift from Paris to New York as a new art metropolis in the course of the 1950s, but serves to explore the ambivalent networking in both image and work concepts. With approximately 70 works, she will present a range of drawings, paintings, objects, assemblages and prints from both the Larry Rivers Foundation, NY, and major American museums and collections.
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive scientific catalogue (dt / engl), which illuminates this aspect of the work even more comprehensively than the actual exhibition. Authors: Hans Belting, Rainer Gross, Lorand Hegyi (Musée d’art moderne, Saint-Etienne), David Joel (Larry Rivers Foundation), Beate Reifenscheid (Ludwig Museum, Koblenz). Verlag: Edition Cantz, Berlin.
Film and television contributions to the exhibition: