Riva Lehrer

Riva Lehrer, photo by Dawoud Bey

Riva Lehrer is an artist, writer and curator whose work focuses on issues of physical identity and the socially challenged body. She is best known for representations of people with impairments, and those whose sexuality or gender identity have long been stigmatized.

Ms. Lehrer’s work has been seen in venues including the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian, the United Nations, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the Arnot Museum, the DeCordova Museum, the Frye Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the State of Illinois Museum.

Awards include the 2017 3Arts MacDowell Fellowship for writing, 2015 3Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois; the 2014 Carnegie Mellon Fellowship at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges; the 2009 Prairie Fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation. Grants include the 2009 Critical Fierceness Grant, the 2008 3Arts Foundation Grant, and the 2006 Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence, (NYC), as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the University of Illinois, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Her memoir in progress, entitled “Golem Girl Gets Lucky,” was recently signed to the Regal Hoffman & Associates / New York literary agency.

Ms. Lehrer is on faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and instructor in the Medical Humanities Departments of Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Chicago.

Carrie Sandahl 2017 48 x 24″ acrylic on panel
Risk Picture: David Mitchell, by Riva Lehrer and David Mitchell. 2017. Mixed media on paper, 24 x 36″
Risk Picture: Hillary Chute, by Riva Lehrer and Hillary Chute. 2015 Mixed media on paper and mix med on carved Plexiglass 44 x 30 x 3″
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  1. […] Riva Lehrer is a Chicago based portrait artist (kind of). Lehrer explores issues of stigma in the context of the human body. Her portrait work is collaborative and based on an ethical practice. She begins with a conversation about the relationship of her subjects to their bodies. Lehrer works extensively in the queer community as well as with individuals who have some sort of physical impairment. Her work ties together how subjects relate to their bodies and what it is they do with their bodies for a living. Lehrer’s project The Risk Pictures involves subjects who come to her home for a three-hour sitting. At the two-hour mark, she leaves giving subjects total control of her home. She doesn’t ask what they do while she is gone. In this way, Lehrer renders herself as vulnerable as the subjects themselves. During the third hour alone, subjects are asked to use Lehrer’s art supplies to alter the portrait she has begun. Most of her subjects are not artists and Lehrer tries not to give instructions. She may respond to their alterations but she will not remove or change them. Following completion, Risk Pictures are exhibited and sold, usually to collectors. Lehrer recently penned an op-ed for the New York Times which garnered enormous attention. Publishers, galleries, museums, and radio programs reached out to her. Lehrer is now in the process of writing a book exploring many topics surrounding disability culture, which is still wildly underrepresented within the art world, and what she calls “bright luck and dark luck.” […]