May 22, 2016


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Lot 38: Larry Rivers

Lot 38: Larry Rivers

Make Believe Ballroom

Acrylic, oil, photolithograph on canvas, cast resin fiber, and wood
#94 of 105
Published and fabricated by Mixografia, Los Angeles
Signed with edition center right edge
36.75" x 35" x 3.5"
LAMA would like to thank the Larry Rivers Studio for their assistance in cataloguing this work
Provenance: Private Collection, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Estimate: $5,000 - $7,000
Inventory Id: 22037

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It is widely believed that the painter, sculptor, and printmaker Larry Rivers (1923–2002) changed the course of American art in the 1950s and '60s, when pure abstraction was the dominant force in art. At a time during which figuration was considered dead, Rivers insisted that figurative art and portraiture remained relevant—even radical. The singular style he developed combined the force and gesture of Abstract Expressionism with perfectly rendered, representational imagery. His preferred subject matter—everyday objects like playing cards, cigarette packs, and foreign currency—together with his signature cool, ironic detachment have caused some to regard Rivers as the forerunner of Pop Art.

The engines which drove Rivers's career were restless curiosity and an eagerness to experiment. He was a leading figure in the New York School, a loose-knit group of painters, writers, dancers, and musicians who formed the core of the East Coast avant-garde in the 1950s and '60s. In addition to making art, Rivers played jazz saxophone, designed stage sets and costumes, made documentary films, and acted. He and the poet Frank O'Hara—his longtime friend and sometime lover—would collaborate on art that combined text and imagery. For his Make Believe Ballroom series, Rivers employed a novel printing technique to create pieces with raised, textured surfaces, which occupy a middle ground between painting and sculpture.

Drawing on sources ranging from Courbet and Manet to Matisse, a major theme in Rivers's work is the relocating of iconic, established imagery in contemporary art. One of his early successes was his 1953 work Washington Crossing the Delaware, a detached dissection of the famed Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze painting. In 1963, Rivers painted the first of his Dutch Masters works, a theme he explored several times over. Wryly, these works reference not any Dutch master proper, but a brand of cigars whose packaging co-opts Rembrandt's The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild to commercial ends. In so doing, these paintings are classic Rivers, who surely relished the absurd reincarnation of a Rembrandt masterpiece as promotional fodder in twentieth century consumer culture.

Rose, Barbara, and Jacquelyn Days Serwer. Larry Rivers: Art and the Artist. Boston: Little, Brown and in Association with the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 2002. Print.