Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Red Grooms: Larger than Life at Yale Art Gallery

Red Grooms: Larger than Life at Yale Art Gallery Friday, August 30, 2013–Sunday, March 9, 2014.

For over fifty years, American artist Red Grooms (born 1937) has used his brush to capture the great panorama of life. And for over fifty years people have delighted in his luscious, loud, laughing depictions that so uniquely celebrate the famous and the anonymous, the meaningful and the absurd, the high and the low, of twentieth-century America. Currently on view on the fourth floor of the Old Yale Art Gallery building, Red Grooms: Larger than Life features oversized works on paper and paintings by Grooms, the latter from the recent bequest of Charles B. Benenson, b.a. 1933.

The installation includes the paintings Picasso Goes to Heaven (1973), Studio at the rue des Grands-Augustins (1990–96), and the great 27-foot-long Cedar Bar (1986), which will be flanked by sixteen large, preparatory cartoons for that work given by Grooms to the Gallery in 2007 in honor of Benenson, his great patron.

Executed in colored pencil and watercolor on five large sheets of paper, Cedar Bar depicts the legendary members of the New York School as they may have looked during the hey-day of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the late 1940s and 1950s. During that intensely creative postwar period, the Cedar Tavern—a hole-in-the-wall bar located at 24 University Place in New York City—became the preferred gathering spot of this group of artists and beat writers to drink and talk about art and politics deep into the night. The group liked the bar for its cheap booze and absence of tourists. Demolished in 1963, the Cedar Tavern has come down in history as something of a cult locale—an almost mythical place where, reputedly, drunken brawls were as common as stimulating dialogue.

The other two paintings in the installation feature as their subject Pablo Picasso, the great twentieth century master. During the run of the 2009 exhibition Picasso and the Allure of Language Grooms spoke at the Gallery about Picasso’s influence on the course of twentieth-century painting and on his own work in particular. This exhibition will provide visitors the opportunity to glimpse these influences first-hand. All three featured paintings in Red Grooms: Larger than Life provide a veritable who’s who of the twentiethcentury art world.

Red Grooms, Cedar Bar, 1986. Colored pencil and crayon on five sheets in artist’s wood frame. Yale University Art Gallery, Charles B. Benenson, b.a. 1933, Collection

Red Grooms, Picasso Goes to Heaven, 1973. Acrylic and charcoal on paper laid down on canvases with wood extensions. Yale University Art Gallery, Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection

In 1973 the death of Pablo Picasso inspired Red Grooms to paint this eulogy to the great twentieth-century master. Dominating the lower center of the composition, dressed only in checkered boxer shorts, a jolly Picasso prepares to swing himself heavenward, where other prominent art-world figures wait to greet him. This is Grooms’s jubilant Technicolor vision of how Picasso’s heaven might appear to him after a long life lived to its fullest.

Studio at the Rue des Grands-Augustins
Acrylic on canvas in six parts with wood frame

Moved by the grave socio-political conflicts of the early 1990s—from the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait to the human-rights atrocities playing out in Bosnia and Somalia—Red Grooms was inspired to paint this monumental work. It depicts Pablo Picasso hard at work in his studio in May 1937 on his great masterpiece Guernica—a gruesome yet triumphant refutation of the unconscionable violence wrought by the Nazis that April upon the innocent victims of the small Spanish village. By creating this tribute to Picasso, Grooms was working through his own grief over the abuses of power and greed continuing to play out throughout the world, then over fifty years later.

Exhibition organized by Elisabeth (Lisa) Hodermarsky, the Sutphin Family Senior Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. Made possible by the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund.