Whitney Museum of American Art - May 2016
Larry Rivers (1925-2002)
Double Portrait of Berdie
From the museum label and website:
"The woman depicted here is Larry Rivers’s mother-in-law, Berdie Burger, who was the artist’s primary model in the early 1950s, when she lived with Rivers and her daughter in Southampton, New York. Seen by critics as heralding Rivers’s mature style, the painting registers a range of influences, from the detailed interiors of Impressionism to the expressive brushwork and ambitious scale of the New York School. By depicting the figure simultaneously in two poses—suggesting a time lapse—Rivers emphasizes the process of creation and the active role of both artist and model in creating a fictive scene.
The years surrounding World War II in the United States witnessed the meteoric rise of abstract painting and a widespread abandonment of traditional figurative approaches. Portraiture seemed hopelessly outmoded to many artists, yet some could not relinquish their interest in representing themselves and others. The body, they maintained, was vital in an era marked by unprecedented human catastrophes, including the Holocaust and the atomic bomb. As artist Leonard Baskin proclaimed: “Our human frame, our gutted mansion, our enveloping sack of beef and ash is yet a glory. I hold the cracked mirror up to man.”
These works bear witness to portraiture’s crucial role during this period. Combining figurative imagery with restless brushwork, distorted forms, and flattened color, they invoke the psychic impact of the era’s global conflicts and dislocations, exuding a sense of anxiety, foreboding, and raw intensity. Many of the artists whose work is featured here, including Beauford Delaney, sought refuge in enigmatic explorations of the self. Others such as Larry Rivers and John Wilde instilled images of loved ones with meditations on mortality, while Alfonso Ossorio explored the human condition in portraits of archetypal figures."