Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

Identification Manual

1964 Larry Rivers Born: New York, New York 1923 Died: Southampton, New York 2002 mixed media and collage on fiberboard 73 5/8 x 110 3/8 x 30 in. (187 x 280.3 x 76.2 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Container Corporation of America 1984.124.250A-C Not currently on view

Gallery Label

Rivers was one of the bad boys of the New York art world. He was a poet, lecturer, jazz musician, and painter who imagined that "white people probably think I'm nuts, black people think I'm insulting." Identification Manual combines phantom images of murdered civil rights marchers with pictures of beautiful black women and products designed to bleach dark skin. On the right, two sliding panes of glass afford different racial identities to a figure of a woman.

A white artist creating racially explicit art in the 1960s was controversial, and Rivers liked to give his works clinical, deadpan titles that made the images even more shocking. Identification Manual conveys the difficulty faced by blacks and whites trying to find their way through the heated conflicts of the civil rights movement.

A quotation from Lord Acton, a famously liberal historian in nineteenth-century England, accompanied the title. It read: "The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities."

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006


Ethnic - African-American

Figure group

History - United States - Black History

History - United States - Civil Rights Movement

Occupation - service - fireman





readymade - building parts



About Larry Rivers

Born: New York, New York 1923 Died: Southampton, New York 2002

More works in the collection by
Larry Rivers