Riva Lehrer Biography



Email: rivalehrer@sbcglobal.net
Website: www.rivalehrerart.com

Printworks Gallery
311 W Superior, Chicago, Il 60610


Riva Lehrer (b. Cincinnati 1958) has exhibited in museums and galleries across the country. Her work focuses on issues of physical identity and the socially challenged body.

Ms. Lehrer’s work has been seen in venues including the United Nations, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the Arnot Museum, the DeCordova Museum, the Frye Museum, the Smithsonian Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, the State of Illinois Museum, and the Elmhurst Museum. She has been a visiting artist and lecturer across the US and Europe.

Her work with graphic novelist Alison Bechdel is the subject of a 2012 documentary, “The Paper Mirror”, by Charissa King-O’Brien, and is currently being shown in film festivals around the world. A 2005 documentary “Self Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer” by David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder has been seen at numerous film fests, winning awards and becoming included in many university curricula. She is also in 2 upcoming documentaries; “Variations” by Laurie Little and Anuradha Rana; and “Code of the Freaks” by Salome Chasnoff, Carrie Sandahl, and Susan Nussbaum.

Awards include the 2009 Prairie Fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation and 2009 the Critical Fierceness Grant, the 2008 Three Arts Foundation of Chicago grant for artistic achievement, and the 2006 Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence, based in New York City, an unrestricted grant for $50,000. Other awards include those from the Illinois Arts Council, the University of Illinois and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ms. Lehrer’s writing and visual art are included in the new anthology, “Sex and Disability”, Duke University Press, edited by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow, 2011.

Riva Lehrer is currently adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Drawing and Anatomy), visiting artist in Medical Humanities at Northwestern University, and co-chair of the Chicago Bodies of Work Festival 2013.



2011 Mirror Shards, Printworks Gallery, Chicago, IL
2009 State of Illinois Museum at Chicago
2008 Totems and Familiars, Printworks Gallery
2005 Next In The Gallery, Herron Museum, Indianapolis, IN
2005 Lafayette Museum of Art, Lafayette, IN
2004 Circle Stories, Chicago Cultural Center
2001 Bella Incognita, Susan Cummins Gallery, Mill Valley, CA
1999 Circle Stories, Lyons Wier Gallery, Chicago
Then & Now, College of Lake County, Grayslake, IL
1996 Patterns, Isis Gallery, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN
1995 Trace Marks, Lyons Wier Gallery, Chicago
1993 Embodied Memory, Sazama Gallery, Chicago
1992 The Transparent Bed, A.I.R. Gallery, NY


2013 Bodies of Work, Woman Made Gallery, Chicago
Figure it Out, Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston, IL
Selected Artists, Printworks Gallery
2012 Self Portraits, Printworks Gallery
2012 Figurism, Illinois State Museum at Chicago Gallery
2011 Tribute to George Tooker, North Park University, Chicago
2010 Revealing Culture, Smithsonian Museum, International Gallery. Washington DC.
Zora: How I Understand, Connie Gillock Gallery, Evanston, IL
Book Covers, Printworks Gallery, Chicago, IL
2009 A Dog’s Life, Memphis College of Art Gallery, Memphis, TN
2008 eMotion Pictures, The Presidio, San Francisco, CA, & the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago
2007 Girl on Guy, A + D Gallery, Columbia College, Chicago.
Curators Anniversary Exhibit, Woman Made Gallery, Chicago.
The Exquisite Snake, Mary and Leigh Bloch Museum, NW University, Evanston, IL
2006 The Tullman Collection, the Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL
Spirit and Psyche, Highland Park Art Center, Highland Park, IL
Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art, Chicago Cultural Center Navigation/Negotiation, Gene Siskel Center, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The Art of the Bookplate, Printworks Gallery
2005 Representing Representation, Arnot Museum, Elmira, NY
Gescheidle Gallery, Los Angeles Art Fair, LA, CA
National Biennial Watercolor Invitational, Parkland College, Champaign, IL
2004 Figurative Drawing Biennial 2004, Koplin Del Rio, Los Angeles, CA
Protect, Belloc Lowndes, Chicago, IL

2000 to 2003
To Kiss the Spirits: An Artist Homage to Hollis Sigler, Artemesia, Chicago
Contemporary Drawing Salon, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago
The Perception of Appearances: A Decade of American Contemporary Figurative Drawing, Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA
eMotion Pictures: Orthopedics in Art, Chicago Cultural Center, 2001, United Nations, NY, 2002
Moments of Grace: New Regional Painting, Muskegon Museum of Art, MI
Self Portraits 2000, Printworks Gallery, Chicago

SELECTED SHOWS 1996 to 1999

Illinois Women Artists: The New Millennium, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., and museum venues around Illinois
Treatment: Womens’ Bodies and Medical Science, Dinnerware Gallery, Tucson, AZ
Portrait Show, Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL
Artists of the Midwest, Northern Michigan University Art Museum, MI
A Game of Chance, Printworks Gallery, Chicago, traveling exhibition
Art That Heals, Metropolitan State College of Denver, CO
Narrative Flow, Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts, Chicago
Inside Out: Psychological Self-Portraiture, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT
Body and Soul: Contemporary Art & Healing, DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA
Inside Out: Psychological Self-Portraiture, Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT


2010 Critical Fierceness Award, Chances Dances, Chicago, IL
2009 Chandler Prairie Fellowship, Ragdale Foundation, Lake Forest, IL
2008 Three Arts Foundation, Chicago, IL
2007 Chicago Artist’s Month, Selected Artist Chicago, IL
2007 The Wynn Newhouse Award for Artists of Excellence, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation.
2002 The Carol J. Gill Award for Disability Culture, The Progress Center, Chicago
1999 Chicago Artist’s Assistance Program Grant, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs
1999 Special Assistance Grant, Illinois Arts Council
1997 Regional Visual Arts Fellowship Award, National Endowment for the Arts


School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Adjunct Professor, Department of Painting and Drawing 2000-current

Northwestern University, Department of Medical Humanities. Visiting Artist and instructor. 2012-current.

University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Medical Humanities
Visiting Artist and Instructor, Gross Anatomy Laboratory 2003-2006

Evanston Art Center, 1992-2002

Acrylic Paint Technical Advisor. Dick Blick Art Supplies, 2005 – present. Golden Paints Instructor (1997-2000)


New York Academy of Medicine, NYC NY
Comics and Medicine Conference, Toronto, Ontario
Modern Language Association, Seattle
The National Film Theater of London, London, England
The University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan, Canada
University of California at Berkeley
San Francisco State University
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
City University of New York, NYC
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Columbia College, Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago & Champaign/Urbana
Ohio State University
Northern Michigan University, MI
Notre Dame University, IN
Northern Illinois University
Northeastern University, Chicago
North Park University, Chicago
College of Marin, Marin County, California
Northwestern Medical School, Chicago
Wheaton College, IL
Kendall College, Grand Rapids, MI
Chicago Cultural Center
Anixter Center, Chicago
Rush-St. Luke’s Medical Center, Chicago
University of Cincinnati, Ohio
Art Academy of Cincinnati, OH
Society for Disability Studies International Conference, 2000 – 2007
Society for Charitable Foundations, Chicago
Queerness and Disability Conference, San Francisco, CA
University of Chicago
Society for Photographic Education, Washington, DC


1996 School of the Art Institute of Chicago
1976-80 University of Cincinnati, OH


Co-chair of programming committee for Bodies of Work 2013, festival of Disability Culture, Chicago, Illinois.

Curator for the Permanent Collection at Access Living, the first collection of art by professional artists with disabilities in the US, 2006-2010.

Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago. Curated by Riva Lehrer and Sofia Zutautas. Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art, Exhibit Catalogue. Riva Lehrer: writer, editor and book co-designer (with Mary N. Kennedy).

Navigation/Negotiation, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Siskel Center Gallery.

The Chicago Disability History Exhibit, National Vietnam Veterans Museum, Chicago. Consultant and Designer.


The Paper Mirror

The Paper Mirror (2012) is a documentary about my work with Alison Bechdel, cartoonist and author of Are You My Mother, Fun Home and Dykes to Watch Out For. The film, by Charissa King-O’Brien, follows our collaboration as we created a portrait of Alison Bechdel over a two-year period.

Information on The Paper Mirror: thepapermirrorfilm.blogspot.com
Alison Bechdel: http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/

Variations by Anuradha Rana and Laurie Little

Variations (2013) follows dancer Kris Lenzo, musician Chris Foreman, and artist Riva Lehrer as they create work and talk about the influence of their lives on their practice.

Code of the Freaks by Salome Chasnoff, Susan Nussbaum, Laurie Little and Carrie Sandahl. (In progress) This film explores the history of the depiction of people with disabilities in Hollywood. Lehrer appears as a commentator.

Self-Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer

In 2004, David Mitchell, PhD. and Sharon Snyder PhD., at UIC, produced the documentary Self-Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer. This focuses on the Circle Stories project, and includes interviews with participants and commentary by scholars. It has been shown all over the United States and Europe, and is now included in many university curricula.



Lehrer, Riva. “The Moving Face”. TriQuarterly Journal, Northwestern University, Evanston IL. April 2013

Lehrer, Riva. “Golem Girl Gets Lucky,” Sex and Disability, ed. By Robert McRuer, Duke University Press, 2011

Lehrer, Riva and Zutautas, Sofia. Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art. Chicago Cultural Center Press, 2006.

Lehrer, Riva. “Surgery” and “Frida Kahlo” in Encyclopedia of Disability. Gary L. Albrecht, ed. New York: Sage Publications, 2005.

Lehrer, Riva. “Circle Stories.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 26(2). 2000.


Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press, 2011.

Millett-Gallant, Ann. The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art. Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring:How We Look, Oxford University Press, 2009

Maxwell, Carrie. “Riva Lehrer’s ‘Mirror Shards’ debuts at Printworks”. Windy City Times, December 12, 2011

James, Damien. “Eye Exam: The Skin She Lives In”. New City Art, November 29, 2011

“Riva Lehrer Exhibited at Printworks Gallery.” Chicago.Broadwayworld.com, November 9, 2011

Smart: Riva Lehrer’s Body of Art. Bitch Media, June 2010

Davis, Andrew. “A Gay in the Life: Riva Lehrer”. Windy City Times, October 6, 2010

“Zen, Riva Lehrer, and the Art of Disability.” Irked Magazine, December 8, 2007.

Nance, Kevin. “Artistic Passions Turn to Girl on Guy.” Chicago Sun Times, October 5, 2007.

Czerwiec, MK. “A Conversation with Riva Lehrer”. Graphic Medicine. May 30, 2012

Artner, Alan G. “Girl on Guy Puts Cold Logic to Hot Buttons.” Chicago Tribune, October 4, 2007.

The Tullman Collection, The Mobile Museum of Art, exhibition catalogue

Welte, Ruth. “Body Art.” Time Out Chicago. April 20-27, 2006.

Gray, P.J. “Circling a Monster.” Pink Pages. May 2004 (http://www.pinkmag.com/past/ circlingamonster.html).

Thodos, Diane. “Riva Lehrer: Circle Stories.” ArtCritical.com. May 2004 (http://artcritical.com/thodos/ DTLehrer.htm).

Hawkins , Margaret. “Lehrer’s paintings disable common notions of beauty,” Chicago Sun-Times. April 16, 2004.

Meyer, Karen “Artist with disability displays portraits in Chicago,“ ABC 7 News Chicago, April 9, 2004 (http://abclocal.go.com/wls/news/karenmeyer/040904_disable_artist.html).

Stein, Lisa. “Artist depicts the disabled with no punches pulled.” Chicago Tribune. March 13, 2003.

Brotman, Barbara. “Sigler’s vision continues with friends’ work.” Chicago Tribune. October 9, 2002.

Hackett, Regina. “Frye’s exhibit of figurative artists is cluttered but compelling.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. June 27, 2002.

Anderson, Jon. “Artwork inspired by pain can open door to healing.” Chicago Tribune, October 11, 2001.

eMotion Pictures: An Exhibition of Orthopedics in Art, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 2001

Fries, Kenny. “Risky Encounters: Riva Lehrer’s Circle Stories,” New Mobility, August 2001

Stein, Lisa. “Random trios make exquisite combinations.” Chicago Tribune. January 27, 2000.

Fries, Kenny. “Riva Lehrer.” WeMedia. August 2000.

Hammond, Harmony. Lesbian Art in America. New York: Rizzoli International, 2000.

Sundell, Ivy. The Chicago Art Scene 2000. Chicago: Crow Woods Press, 2000.

Stein, Lisa. Art Elicits Mixed Emotion, St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 6, 2000.

The Illinois Committee For The National Museum Of Women In The Arts. Illinois Women Artists: The New Millennium. 2000

New American Paintings, No. 23, Open Studios Press, 1999.

Reed, Bill. Spiritual Chronicles, Muskegon Chronicle, December 19, 1999.

Benard, Alan G. Many Faces of the Portrait, Elmhurst Press, October 30, 1999.

Stein, Lisa. Lehrer’s Art Gets Physical, St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 17, 1999.

Jones, Gwen. “Retrospective exhibit includes new ‘circle stories.’” Daily Herald. May 31, 1999.

Hawkins, Margaret. Meaning’s More Than Skin Deep, Chicago Sun-Times, April 6, 1999.

Ganim, Barbara. Art and Healing, Three Rivers Press, 1999.

Anderson, D. and M. Strauss. Inside Out: Psychological Self-Portraits. Aldrich Museum, 1995.

Capasso, Nick. Body & Soul: Contemporary Art and Healing. DeCordova Museum, 1994.