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Rivers, Larry (1923-2002)  
 
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Rivers continued his exploration of Pop iconography in his famous series known as the Dutch Masters, launched in 1963. The series was inspired by a billboard for Dutch Masters cigars, which had appropriated images from Rembrandt's The Syndics of the Clothmakers' Guild (1662).

Another of Rivers's best-known works is The Greatest Homosexual (1964), a portrait of Napoleon painted after Rivers saw the Jacques-Louis David portrait The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries (1812) that hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. In his work, Rivers underscores what he saw as an effeminate pose and camp attitude in the David painting.

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Rivers's Late Career

By the 1960s, Rivers's career was at its zenith. John Canady, the chief art critic of the New York Times, called Rivers "the cleverest, even the foxiest, painter at work in the country," an artist "who can do anything he wants with a brush."

In addition to painting and sculpture, Rivers performed in experimental plays such as Jack Gelber's The Connection (1959), about the downtown New York drug scene, and in films such as Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie's Beat movie based on the life of Neal Cassady, Pull My Daisy (1959), with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Rivers designed the sets and costumes for a 1966 New York Philharmonic performance of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. Rivers set the opera in a boxing ring, and dressed the chorus in sleeveless undershirts and sunglasses; the production outraged critics and audience alike.

In his last decades, Rivers began experimenting widely, creating large-scale multi-media works. The flamboyance of the artist and the controversy surrounding the art often overshadowed the merits of the works themselves.

His Lampman Loves It (1966), a nine-foot-tall assemblage, complete with strategically placed light bulbs, represented a heterosexual couple having intercourse. Another electrified mixed-media piece, America's No. 1 Problem (1969), depicted "a black cock, a white cock, and a ruler," as Rivers once described it.

His most ambitious project, History of the Russian Revolution (1966), is a 76-panel multi-media work inspired by Rivers's reading of a biography of Leon Trotsky. As Rivers himself explained, it is "either the greatest painting-sculpture-mixed media of the 20th century, or the stupidest."

Rivers's Sexuality

Rivers has admitted that, "like any normal heterosexual boy," he had his first homosexual experience at the age of 14.

Throughout his 20s and 30s, Rivers experimented from time to time with same-sex desire. In his autobiography, Rivers explained, "sex with men wasn't exactly my bag, but if they got my cock hard they could have it."

However, a friend of Rivers, the painter Anne Tabachnick, clarified: "Larry didn't have gay episodes to have sex but to improve himself! He thought by hanging out in gay company he would learn to be classier . . . . He was insecure about his manners . . . . He really wanted to learn how to dress and talk."

Perhaps Rivers's most significant gay partner was the poet Frank O'Hara (1926-1966). The two men met at a party in 1950. After being introduced, they "talked [their] heads off for two hours," and then moved "to a quiet spot behind a window drape" and kissed.

Rivers has stated that, with the exception of John Bernard Myers, O'Hara was his only male sexual relationship that lasted longer than one night. During his relationship with O'Hara, Rivers continued to have sex with women, but was intrigued by, and attracted to, the poet.

Nor was O'Hara exclusively involved with Rivers. In a letter to Rivers, O'Hara wrote, "I am neither starved nor sated by you alone, and I'm sure it's the same with you, but we do interest each other in some way."

Rivers once described O'Hara as "a charming madman, a whoosh of air sometimes warm and pleasant, sometimes so gusty you closed your eyes and brushed back the hair it disarranged."

Rivers and O'Hara were enthusiastic about, and influenced, each other's work. O'Hara wrote several poems about Rivers and his art, including "Walking with Larry Rivers," and "On Seeing Larry Rivers' Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Museum of Modern Art."

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