los-angeles

Larry Rivers

Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA)

Larry Rivers concocts brilliance. Half-a-dozen unforgettable paintings stud his thirteen-year career. But nothing he has painted equals the guile with which he has painted it. Rivers’ artful dodges signal the triumph of craftiness over craft.

Nervous, shifting, ambitious paintings evoke shades of artists whose drive surmounted severe limitations—Courbet, Manet, Gauguin. Rivers’ early variation on Courbet’s Funeral at Ornans scarcely resembles it but it does indicate the spiritual bond between the two revolutionaries. Today Courbet’s revolt seems simple. He struck a firm about-face posture as a hero of the realistic movement and went on painting in an academic way. Rivers’ situation was more complex. He faced triumphant hordes of Abstract Expressionists armed with the same weapons as Courbet—a taste for greatness and a pop-gun talent for realistic, autobiographical art. History had rendered

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