Highly regarded by museums and critics, José de Rivera’s delicate, elegant, curvilinear forms executed in aluminum, stainless steel and bronze, sometimes polished to a high sheen, sometimes painted, and often motorized, set a standard for craftsmanship and artistry. Born in Louisiana in 1904, José Ruiz learned machine work and blacksmithing on the plantation where his father was employed, skills that he would later utilize to great effect. After studying art in Chicago, and now with the last name de Rivera (his maternal grandmother’s), he relocated to New York to establish himself as a sculptor. His first major commission, created under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, was a 66-inch aluminum alloy depiction of Flight installed at Newark Airport, New Jersey. After serving in the air corps in WWII de Rivera returned to sculpture, mounting his first solo exhibition in New York in 1946. Numerous exhibitions and commissions would follow distinguishing his five-decade career.
José de Rivera’s beautifully lyric sense of form, often referred to as line drawing in space, is in full glory in this untitled work from 1953. Three dimensional by nature, sculpture is meant to be seen in the round, however there is a surprising element of involuntary change as this form rotates, via a motor de Rivera modified to turn ever so slowly, completing a full rotation in just over a minute-and-a-half. Untitled’s composition, melting as it twists away, lengthening and shortening, alternating red to black, black to red, changes with every glance. The white platform sets the sculpture apart from the base, visually levitating it and adding an element of interplay and intersection of form, creating a horizontal abstract shape countering the verticality of the piece as a whole. The polished aluminum edge accentuates the delineation between black and red and sharpens the form. Like Alexander Calder’s mobiles and stabiles, de Rivera was eloquently experimenting with color, playfulness of form, and pierced air and space in a modern and contemporary way, and like fellow sculptor Pol Bury, he often relied on hidden motors to add an extra element to heighten our interaction with his work.
Estate of Carol A. Straus, Houston, Texas
Jose de Rivera Retrospective Exhibition, 1930-1971, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla (California), February 20-April 16, 1972, no. 16; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, May 8-June 8, 1972
Listed in the 1972 Retrospective Exhibition catalogue
Note: the 1972 Retrospective Exhibition catalogue lists this sculpture as being registered in the artist's Catalogue Raisonne as no. 34, yet no definitive catalogue raisonné existed for the artist at the time. It may refer to the 1969 book on the artist published by Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, which represented de Rivera in the late 1960s and published the most comprehensive book on his work at the time.