Date of Degree
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
In 1970, Sam Hunter complained that the distinctive persona of proto-Pop artist Larry Rivers had overshadowed his artistic achievement. "Too often he has been taken as an engaging public performer", wrote Hunter, claiming that some critics "make the mistake of confusing his irrepressible exhibitionism with an imagined artistic flaw of fitful or unsteady inspiration". 1 This dissertation presents an alternative proposition regarding the relationship between Rivers' artistic persona and art: that an examination of Rivers' numerous activities inside and outside the artistic arena, such as poetry, jazz, and media, is indeed useful for understanding his work. Particularly, Rivers' involvement with young homosexual poets in the New York School, including Frank O'Hara, proves crucial to Rivers' artistic production during the 1950s and early 1960s. Rivers' intimate and artistic partnership with O'Hara set him in close contact with camp, the gay subculture, and historical references to homoeroticism in art and literature.
Concentrating on Rivers' and O'Hara's collaborative years, this dissertation explores selected individual and collaborative works by Rivers and O'Hara from the 1950s and early 1960s. These include Rivers' early drawings from the late 1940s and his Washington Crossing the Delaware in 1954, which are discussed in conjunction with O'Hara's writing The 4th of July in 1951 and "On Seeing Larry Rivers' Washington Crossing the Delaware" in 1955; Rivers' portrait O'Hara in 1954, which is addressed with O'Hara's "Homosexuality" in 1954 and "In Memory of My Feelings" in 1956; and, finally, Rivers' and O'Hara's collaborative projects, from Try! Try! in 1953 to Stones, a ten-part lithograph series created between 1957 and 1960.
The purpose of this examination is to locate parallels, influences, and interactions between Rivers' and O'Hara's works and then to consider their treatment of the self and male sexuality from various angles—theories of camp, theoretical discussions in gay/lesbian studies or queer theory, and the historical context of the 1950s. The particular emphasis is placed upon how Rivers' and O'Hara's depictions of the male nude and the image of male intimacy were forged against the distinction between high art/literature and the gay subculture or between "normality" and "abnormality" in male sexualities.
1 Sam Hunter, Rivers (New York: Harry N. Abrams/Meridian Books, 1971), 11.
Koh, Dong-Yeon, "Larry Rivers and Frank O'Hara: Reframing Male Sexualities" (2006). CUNY Academic Works.