Rivers’ On the Phone (1955)

Larry Rivers' mixed media construction, On the Phone, is a visual  demonstration of several themes that are little known but which we emphasize as common to poetic art generally.

Note, for instance, how his right eye is missing. The suggestion that one eye looks outwards while the other is "blind" (in other words, looks inwards) is an age-old method to indicate a fusion of insight with out-sight, the exterior world with an interior one.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Rivers, On the Phone (1955)

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His awareness of what earlier art meant and the unknown methods artists use is further demonstrated in how his construction is dependent on Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bérgère. Manet's maid, as we will soon explain in a separate entry, is an alter ego of the artist standing in front of her work-table with bottles on it instead of pots of paint. Her framed "painting" hangs behind her. That's why the reflection in Manet's mirror does not match the foreground. No art historian has ever understood this; but Rivers did.

See conclusion below


Captions for image(s) above:

Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bérgère (1882)


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Dozens of artists from at least the Renaissance onwards have used similar techniques or variations of them. In fact, in On the Phone Rivers may metaphorically be talking to them discussing their art. In a 1981 speech summing up his career to date, he revealed:

“As I saw it, I was an artist in a drama about the history of art. I made the appropriate gestures; I played the role of connector from caveman artist up through the present. You name them, I was them.”1


1. Memorial Address, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Sept. 16th, 1981, cited in Barbara Rose, “Larry Rivers: Painter of Modern Life” in Rose and Jacquelyn Days Serwer, Larry Rivers: Art and Artist (Washington, DC: Corcoran Gallery of Art) 2002, p. 47

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