From the NFL to art history: how Keith Rivers is spanning the gamut

From the NFL to art history: how Keith Rivers is spanning the gamut
Keith Rivers at home with, from left, “Untitled” (2017), by Arjan Martins; “Untitled (You drive a hard bargain)" (2011), by Barbara Kruger; and “Raised Eyebrows and Furrowed Foreheads” (2008), by John Baldessari. Credit Credit Brian Guido for The New York Times.
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Sports and art are rarely used in the same sentence. Some have tried to make the argument that sports can be art, often resulting in an unconvincing result. Sometimes, the two come together and work alongside each other; the Olympics are often a prime time for this as artists and architects are commissioned to create works for the host city like when Turner Prize winner Anish Kapoor created Orbit or when Ai Weiwei helped design the Bird’s Nest (the Beijing National Stadium). However, this is a story about a different way that sports and art are intersecting.

In 2009, Keith Rivers signed on for his first year in the National Football League (NFL) in the US with the Cincinnati Bengals. That was also the first year he bought an artwork – a silkscreen print of an electric chair made by Andy Warhol. Fast forward to 2015, Rivers wrapped up his NFL career after having played for the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. After a few injuries, he felt he wanted to get out of the game to focus on other passions, including art. By that point, he’d also grown his own personal collection to include works by the liked of Rashid Johnson, Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Tony Lewis, Sonia Gomes, and Arjan Martins. His collection, he says, centres around works that comment on politics, identity, race, and language mainly due to the climate of today’s world.

‘Art gave me something to segue into,’ Richards told the New York Times concerning life after the NFL. ‘I’ve really gotten serious as far as studying, going to shows, going to all the museums I can.’ And Rivers really means it when he says he’s gotten really into it. Now 32, Rivers is a part of the executive committee for the Hammer Museum’s Young Patrons Group. He’s also about to do something that very few people are lucky enough to do: spend a year completely immersing himself in the arts.

Starting this summer, Rivers plans to move to Paris. In addition to learning French, he has an incredibly ambitious goal of visiting every museum in Europe to gain a better understanding of the art that’s intrigued him for most of his life. His passion for art began when he was studying at University of Southern California. The woman he was seeing also happened to be an art history major and she brought him to the Museum of Modern Art. During their visit, she explained Claes Oldenburg to Rivers and he ‘got curious.’ He probably had no idea at that point that he’d be embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime journey that any art enthusiast would give anything to do.

‘[This],’ says Rivers, ‘will be my art history.’