Marlborough is proud to announce Beware a Wolf in the Alley, a solo exhibition by the inimitable American artist Red Grooms. Since Ruckus Manhattan, his first (and widely acclaimed) exhibition at Marlborough in 1976, the gallery has represented Grooms’ work across four decades with over twenty solo exhibitions. This is his first show at our downtown Broome Street location, showcasing the re-installation of the immersive sculpto-pictorama, The Alley (1984-85) and the 16 minute film, Little Red Riding Hood (1978).
In Red Grooms’ The Alley (1984-85) we find the artist shifting his approach towards the large ‘sculpto- pictorama’, away from the all-encompassing view in works like City of Chicago (1968) and Ruckus Manhattan (1975-76). In those earlier works, the attempt to capture the full chaotic range of these storied cities was reflected in a wild and wooly diversity of approach and material. Red has always been generous in welcoming the input and specialized skill of assistants necessary to execute such huge artworks, contributing to the fractured energy in many of his pieces. The Alley has a narrowed focus on a specific street in Lower Manhattan, and has a consistent approach to materials and overall mood. It is a nocturne, with much of the action hidden behind the screens of silhouetted windows
I had the honor and pleasure of being one of those assistants and was in at the ground floor while The Alley was created almost 20 years ago. Red has said that the initial genesis of the work was due to the opportunity of having an exhibition at Marlborough in London. Just a few doors down from Red’s longtime Tribeca studio is the three-block stretch of Cordtlandt Alley, and having passed it every day, the image of quintessential New York funk seemed like the perfect project to fill the long hallway space in the London gallery. Also on Red’s crew at the time was the artist Andy Yoder, who had a particular skill with sculpting in foam rubber. Working from a small rough model, soon the plywood-framed walls were erected and faced with foam. Larger elements were carved with electric turkey carving knives. Using the hand pump spray guns favored by exterminators, we painted all the elements in acrylic paint. The contrast of the spongy, limpid foam with the hard knock life of 1980’s ‘Noo Yawk’ was a delicious twist.
The Alley is a portrait of the gritty, dodgy and perhaps unsafe city that has largely disappeared, and it captures the threatening sense of the city at the time. We had nick names for all the old school bums that inhabited the street outside the studio: There was “Jackson Pollock”, always scabbed and beat up, “The Shouter” a Chinese guy apparently with Turret’s Syndrome, and “Captain Ahab” with one leg shorter that the other. Cordtlandt Alley is well known to every film scout in town, and every now and then it was enlisted for a set, with fake laundry hung from the fire escapes as street urchins did dance routines, or in an AC/DC music video with a Mad Max kind of vibe. Just hidden behind its walls and metal shutters are Chinese sweat shops, with steam puffing out of pipes to the alley. Its closest corollary could be The Cabinet of Dr. Calgary, the wonderful 1920 German Expressionist film, whose angular sets and mannered-acting Red has long loved.
In practice, Red often makes his large sculptures as a film director would, including the crew in the creative endeavor. And Red has, in fact, made some wonderful films. Little Red Riding Hood (1978) has a strong connection to The Alley in that it addresses some of the same feelings of threat and dread. This is the older, more gothic fairy tale, not a Disney version. The film was shot in Maine with his daughter Saskia in the lead, I played the wolf, my mother was Red Riding Hoods’ mother, and my father and brother were the cameramen. The most memorable moment for me was Red’s direction to make the film seem like it was “Albanian animation”, which I understood to be isolated, but hands on and heart felt. It is an utterly winning, generous, and unpretentious film, and the fun we had while making it is clear.
- Tom Burckhardt, 2014
Tom Burckhardt is an artist living and working in New York City.
He has known Red Grooms his whole life.
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 Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT in 2013, 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’ work can be found in over forty public institutions.