© 2023 by Emma Dei.

RIVA LEHRER                                                                                             BIOGRAPHY


Email:            rivalehrer@sbcglobal.net  

Website:        www.rivalehrerart.com

Facebook:    www.facebook.com/riva.lehrer

Phone: 773-742-9530



Printworks Gallery                                                  

311 W Superior, Chicago, Il 60610



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.  She has been a visiting artist and lecturer across the US and Europe. 


Awards include the 2015 Three Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois; the 2014 Mellon Residency Fellowship at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges; the 2009 Prairie Fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation. Grants include the 2009 Critical Fierceness Grant, the 2008 Three Arts Foundation Grant, and the 2006 Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence, (NYC).  Other awards include those from the Illinois Arts Council, the University of Illinois, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Ms. Lehrer is considered one of the foremost artists and curators in the field of Disability Culture. Her writing and visual art are included in publications including Criptiques, edited by Caitlin Wood; Sex and Disability, edited by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow; TriQuarterly, the literary journal of Northwestern University; Lesbian Art in America, Harmony Hammond; and the Feminist Studies Journal.


Lehrer’s work has been featured in documentaries including The Paper Mirror (2012) by Charissa King-O’Brien, which traces her collaboration with graphic novelist Alison Bechdel; Self Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer (2005) by David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder; Variations (2014), by Laurie Little and Anuradha Rana, a portrait of dancer Kris Lenzo, musician Chris Foreman, and Lehrer; and Code of the Freaks, by Salome Chasnoff, Carrie Sandahl, and Susan Nussbaum, on the representation of disability in Hollywood films (in progress).


A longtime faculty member of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and other institutions, Riva Lehrer is currently instructor in Medical Humanities at Northwestern University.




Email:  rivalehrer@sbcglobal.net

Website:   www.rivalehrerart.com




2016   The Risk Pictures Printworks Gallery, Chicago, IL (May 2016)

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, NYC, NY



Riverside Art Center, Riverside, IL, September 2016

Haverford College, Philadelphia, PA, November 2016

Career Retrospective, Kendall College, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2017




2016   The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition Triennial,

            National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

            Chicago Paints, Ohio University


2015   Return of the Exquisite Corpse, Printworks Gallery, Chicago

            Chances Dances, Gallery 400, University of Illinois at Chicago

            Body Utopia, Trestle Gallery, Brooklyn NY

            Cripfest, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn NY

            Side Show, Yale Gallery of Art, Yale University, New Haven CT

            Transforming Community, Westbeth Gallery, NYC

            Immortality and Vulnerability, Zhou B Art Center, Chicago


2014   Summer Show, Printworks Gallery, Chicago IL


2013   Bodies of Work, Woman Made Gallery, Chicago

            Figure it Out, Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston, IL


2012   Self Portraits, Printworks Gallery

            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,


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: 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, Chicago Cultural Center & United Nations

            Moments of Grace: New Regional Painting, Muskegon Museum of Art, MI

            Self Portraits 2000, Printworks Gallery, Chicago                                                                      


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: Women’s’ 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, CT

            Body and Soul: Contemporary Art & Healing, DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA

            Inside Out: Psychological Self-Portraiture, Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT





2015   3Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois

2014   Mellon Residency Fellowship Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, PA

2014   2014 NewCity Chicago Artists Top 50

2014   Special Mention Award, Pushcart Prize Anthology 2015

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, NYC. $50,000 unrestricted grant

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




2015 3Arts Residency Fellowship, University of Illinois at Chicago. A public portraiture studio for The Risk Pictures ethics in representation project.


2014 Carnegie Mellon Creative Resident at Haverford/Bryn Mawr Colleges. Semester seminar at Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Camphill Village Residence for Adults with Developmental Disabilities. Worked with students as they studied facial anatomy, wrote on ethics and vulnerability, made self-portraits, and portraits of the Camphill residents, who also made those of the students.


2014 Guest curator, 500th Anniversary of Vesalius: Anatomy and Identity Festival, New York Academy of Medicine, NYC, NY. A large roster of speakers and performers who explored the role of physical identity on contemporary art and academia, including Sander Gilman, Alice Dreger, Chase Joynt, Bill Hayes, and a dozen others.


2013 Co-chair, Bodies of Work, Festival of Disability Culture, Chicago.

Curator, Humans Being II: Disability in Contemporary Art, Woman Made Gallery, Chicago.

Follow-up to the 2006 festival (see below).


2006-2010 Access Living. Created the first permanent collection of art by professional artists dealing with issues of disabilities in the United States, at Access Living of Chicago.


2006 Co-Curator, Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art, Chicago Cultural Center

The first large museum exhibit of work by professional, academically trained artists who address disability as a political issue, a personal/familial experience, and/or a theoretical question.

Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art, Exhibit Catalogue, co-writer.


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

Co-Curator, The Chicago Disability History Exhibit, National Vietnam Veterans Museum.


1995 Curator, The View from the Bed, International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago.





These videos give an overview of my work outside the studio.


TED TALKS GRAND RAPIDS 2015: Valuable Bodies. Concepts of pain in portraiture, and the representation of disabled subjects in the history of art.



CHICAGO HUMANITIES FESTIVAL 2014: Jarred: Self Portrait in Formaldehyde.  On encountering myself as a specimen at the Mutter Museum of Medical Curiosities.



CIVA CONFERENCE 2013 Beauty in Exile. On gender, sexuality, and body image.





The Paper Mirror, by Charissa King-O’Brien. 2012. My portrait collaboration with cartoonist Alison Bechdel while she was working on Are You My Mother, follow-up to Fun Home.



Variations, by Anuradha Rana and Laurie Little. 2013. Profiles of dancer Kris Lenzo, musician Chris Foreman, and artist Riva Lehrer. https://variationsdoc.com/


Self-Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer. By David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, 2006.

PART I https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVkVCaEDm5o

PART II https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmtxQmtFd2k


Code of the Freaks, by Salome Chasnoff, Susan Nussbaum, Laurie Little and Carrie Sandahl. Depictions of disability in Hollywood film history. In progress.  https://vimeo.com/55730170




I focus on advanced drawing, advanced figure studies and human/comparative anatomy.


School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Adjunct Professor, 2000-14, returning 2016

Northwestern University, Medical Humanities. Seminar instructor. 2012-current.

University of Illinois at Chicago, Medical Humanities. Instructor and visiting artist, 2006-2010

Evanston Art Center, 1993-2000




Art Academy of Cincinnati, OH

Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Humanities Festival, 2008 and 2014

City University of New York, NYC College of Marin, Marin County, California

Columbia College, Chicago

Columbia University, NYC NY

Cornell Medical School, NYC NY

Emory University, Atlanta, GA

George Washington University, Washington DC (April 2016)

Graphic Medicine Conference, Toronto, Ontario

Haverford College, Philadelphia, PA

Kendall College, Grand Rapids, MI

Modern Language Association, Seattle

National Endowment for the Arts Keynote speaker, Washington DC. Circa 2008

National Film Theater of London, London, England

New York Academy of Medicine, NYC NY

North Park University, Chicago

Northeastern University, Chicago

Northern Illinois University

Northern Michigan University, MI

Northwestern University, Chicago

Notre Dame University, IN

Ohio State University

Queerness and Disability Conference, San Francisco, CA

Rush-St. Luke’s Medical Center, Chicago

San Francisco State University

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Smith College, Northampton, MA

Society for Disability Studies International Conference, many presentations, 2000-2014

Society for Photographic Education, Washington, DC

TEDx Talk, Civic Theater, Grand Rapids 2015

University of California at Berkeley

University of Chicago

University of Cincinnati, Ohio

University of Connecticut

University of Illinois at Chicago & at Champaign/Urbana

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan, Canada

University of Washington at Seattle (May 2016)

Yale University, New Haven, MA

Wheaton College, IL




Currently working on a full memoir, entitled “Golem Girl Gets Lucky.” Early sections were published in Sex and Disability, ed. Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow, Duke University Press, 2011, and in Story Club Magazine, 2015.


Other work includes:


“The Surface of Soles”. TriQuarterly Journal, Northwestern University. January 2015


"Beauty in Exile," Criptiques. ed. by Caitlin Wood, May Day Press, 2014. "Beauty in Exile (for Tim Lowly)," Trying to Get A Sense of Scale. CIVA press, 2014


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


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


“Surgery” and “Frida Kahlo” Encyclopedia of Disability. G. L. Albrecht, ed. Sage Publications, 2005.


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




Foumberg, Jason. “What is Extreme Consent? Portraitist Riva Lehrer Explains.” Chicago Magazine, July 21, 2015.


Frank, Priscilla. “'Body Utopia' Explores The Explosive Beauty Of Nonconforming Bodies.” Huffington Post, September 4, 2015.


Kuppers, Petra. Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction. Palgrave Press, 2014.


“Art 50 2014: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists” NewCity, 9.18.14


Morris, Matt. “Riva Lehrer Chosen for New 3Arts and UIC Artist Fellowship.” NewCity, 9.5.2014


Wiseman, Emma. "Anatomist of Influence." Hyperallergic, 10.27.14


Bobadilla, Suzanna. "Riva Lehrer", Feministing Five, 1.4.14


Bergquist, Kathie. "Meet A Ms Fit: Artist Riva Lehrer." Ms. Fit Magazine, 5.2.13

Meier, Allison. "Repatriation Through Portraiture." Hyperallergic, 10.17.13


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, 12.12.11


James, Damien. “Eye Exam: The Skin She Lives In”. New City Art, 10.29.11


“Riva Lehrer Exhibited at Printworks Gallery.” Chicago.Broadwayworld.com, 11.9.11


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


Davis, Andrew. “A Gay in the Life: Riva Lehrer”. Windy City Times, 10.6.10


“Zen, Riva Lehrer, and the Art of Disability.” Irked Magazine, 12.8.07


Nance, Kevin.  “Artistic Passions Turn to Girl on Guy.” Chicago Sun Times, 10.5.07


Czerwiec, MK. “A Conversation with Riva Lehrer”. Graphic Medicine. 5.30.12


Artner, Alan G.  “Girl on Guy Puts Cold Logic to Hot Buttons.”  Chicago Tribune, 10.4.07


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


Thodos, Diane. “Riva Lehrer: Circle Stories.” ArtCritical.com. May 2004


Hawkins, Margaret. “Lehrer’s paintings disable common notions of beauty,” Chicago Sun-Times. 4.16.04


Meyer, Karen “Artist with disability displays portraits in Chicago,“ ABC 7 News Chicago, 4.9.04


Stein, Lisa. “Artist depicts the disabled with no punches pulled.” Chicago Tribune. 3.13.03


Brotman, Barbara. “Sigler’s vision continues with friends’ work.” Chicago Tribune. 10.9.02


Hackett, Regina. “Frye’s exhibit of figurative artists is cluttered but compelling.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 6.27.02          


eMotion Pictures: An Exhibition of Orthopedics in Art, AAOS Press, 2001


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

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


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


Benard, Alan G. Many Faces of the Portrait, Elmhurst Press, 10.30.99


Stein, Lisa. Lehrer’s Art Gets Physical, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 6.17.99


Hawkins, Margaret. Meaning’s More Than Skin Deep, Chicago Sun-Times, 4.6.99


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




Printworks Gallery 311 W Superior, Chicago, Il 60610  TEL 312-664-9407




1982-1996     School of the Art Institute of Chicago  1976-80 University of Cincinnati, OH