Marlborough Gallery Opens Exhibition of Work by Red Grooms

Marlborough Gallery presents an exhibition by Red Grooms on the theme of New York. The exhibition comprises sculptures, installation pieces, and paintings spanning the years 1976 to 2011. The show opened September 21 and will continue through October 22, 2011. Since his first exhibition at Marlborough in 1976, titled Ruckus Manhattan, Grooms has staked his claim as one of America’s most original, inventive, and popular artists. New York is Grooms’ home base and this exhibition will include several key pieces about New York, such as works from Ruckus Manhattan, The Bus (1995), and Arbus at the Met (2007) along with new works never before exhibited.

Cities have long been a source of inspiration for Grooms. His work is well-known for its witty commentaries on modern life and his affectionate yet satirical portrayals of urban culture.

The exhibition features Porno Bookstore, Girls Girls Girls, and Newsstand, works originally included in Ruckus Manhattan (1976-77), a sprawling sculpto-pictorama, a word coined by the artist to describe a three-dimensional walk-through installation that the viewer could enter to enjoy the scenery. Ruckus Manhattan was the product of a collaboration between Red Grooms, Mimi Gross, and the Ruckus Construction Company. This dazzling, pithy recreation of New York City was seen by over 100,000 viewers at Marlborough Gallery during the spring / summer of 1976. The last time a good portion of Ruckus Manhattan was shown in New York was at Grand Central Station Terminal in 1993 when The Subway, Wall Street, The World Trade Towers, and Woolworth Building were on view.

Porno Bookstore is a colorfully irreverent, near life-size installation that might make even a jaded New Yorker blush. The viewer can enter the two constructed rooms of the store and browse the comically detailed merchandise along with the patrons Grooms has created.

Girls Girls Girls displays the sensory overload and seediness that characterized the Times Square of the 1970s. The viewer sees double as six heads occupy three bodies. A pair of policemen watchfully stands between two deckedout pimps and their prostitutes while neon lights and glaring advertisements form the backdrop.

Newsstand captures the quotidian charm of the downtown city streets with a nine foot tall kiosk crammed full of every variety of periodicals along with a sagging bum holding himself up on the adjacent lamppost.

The Bus, another popular sculpto-pictorama, is a twenty-one foot long by nine foot high recreation of a New York City bus that was first exhibited at Marlborough Gallery in 1995. The viewer boards the bus to behold a motley assortment of New York life ranging from the prim woman in pearls and gloves to the man in camouflage pants with his foot up on the seat. The art critic Clare Henry pointed out in Sculpture Magazine that:

Grooms’ large scale figurative tableaux are more than mere entertainment. A superb draftsman with a keen, unforgiving eye yet easy going, light touch, he translates a lifetime’s acute observation (laced with strong satire) into bright Pop Americana with universal appeal. Caricature is often vicious and Grooms can offer a noholds-barred message with bite. But he stops short of the malicious in favor of the benign commentary on human frailties with which we can all identify. Such humanity and honesty imbues his stereotypes with conviction.

Among the paintings exhibited is Arbus at the Met, a 2007 oil on canvas. Grooms takes the subjects of Diane Arbus’ famous photographic portraits and places them in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, amidst an Arbus exhibition. They meet and mingle as they never have in real life, fulfilling a Groomsian fantasy. The many characters from Arbus’ photos are now part of the pop-lexicon of American life: Tiny Tim, André the Giant, and the Kennedy supporter.

New paintings from 2010, Heavenly Gate, Crosswalk, and Sunglasses, come from snapshots the artist took over the years for research purposes. Grooms explains, “About two years ago, I discovered that when a figure was cut out from a photograph, it left an interesting negative space which I water-colored to establish hand work in the middle of the photographic process. I got interested in making larger photo collages, cutting, pasting and painting, hoping to establish a synergy between the two media.”

Grooms continues to make relevant and scintillating commentaries on contemporary street culture with his newest works, including the hilariously named Count Tribecula (2011) and Mr. Bones (2011). Both paintings depict types that every New Yorker has seen on the street.

Included in the catalog is a short story by Red Grooms and Lysiane Luong titled “The City That Never Snores.” Gunslinger and Lilly Wong are the characters that have come to life in a series of fourteen by fourteen inch paintings describing the fictional adventures of the detective in his New York milieu. Eggs over Midnight (2007), The Client (2007), and Forced Entry (2010) set the highs and lows of big city life. This world recalls the black and white gangster movies with superstars like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson.

Red Grooms was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937 and has lived and worked in New York since 1957. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the New School for Social Research in New York City and at the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts in Provincetown, MA.

Grooms’ art has been the subject of three retrospective shows: the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 1985, the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, in 1987, and the National Academy of Design, NY, in 2001, specifically devoted to his graphic work. This last exhibition traveled to eight other venues in the United States through 2004. He has also been honored with several important survey exhibitions, most recently at the Hudson River Museum in 2007, the Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, NY in 2005, The Frist Center for Visual Arts, Nashville, TN, and the Katonah Museum of Art, NY in 2003. Grooms has received numerous awards and commissions throughout his career, including the Lifetime Achievement Award given by the National Academy of Design in 2003, and was an Open House New York honoree in 2011.

Grooms created two permanent outdoor sculptures, Some Like Hot and Imaike Broadway, for Nagoya, Japan in 1996. In 1998, he unveiled the Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel, a working carousel depicting Nashville’s history. His current commission, a work in progress, is a large sculpture for the new baseball stadium of the Florida Marlins opening in 2012. It will be a sixty foot tall kinetic sculpture that incorporates a light and water show celebrating the Marlins’ home runs. The background, displaying the natural beauties of South Florida, is painted on four arches, stacked to resemble an art deco structure. Plunging marlins, flying seagulls, flapping flamingos and a blazing sun all come to action when a Marlins player hits a home run; sculptural fireworks explode while a champion marlin leaps to sixtyseven feet and dives in a somersault. Grooms’ additional artistic activities include happenings, filmmaking, and theater design.

Grooms’ work can be found in over forty public institutions, including The Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; The Denver Art Museum, CO; Fort Worth Art Museum, TX; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Nagoya City Art Museum, Japan; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.

Image: Red Grooms, Count Tribecula, 2011. Tempera and acrylic on board, 60 x 40 in. 152.4 x 101.6 cm. Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Gallery.

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