Identification Manual

Media - 1984.124.250A-C - SAAM-1984.124.250A-C_1 - 88088
Copied Larry Rivers, Identification Manual, 1964, mixed media and collage on fiberboard, 73 58110 3830 in. (187280.376.2 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Container Corporation of America, 1984.124.250A-C

Artwork Details

Identification Manual
Not on view
73 58110 3830 in. (187280.376.2 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Container Corporation of America
Mediums Description
mixed media and collage on fiberboard
  • Figure group
  • African American
  • History — United States — Black History
  • Occupation — service — fireman
  • History — United States — Civil Rights Movement
Object Number

Artwork Description

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