Yale University Art Gallery • New Haven, CT • • Through March 9, 2014

By: Patricia Rosoff

Encountering Grooms’ work is like stepping into a raucous party in full swing. His approach is too jam-packed for judicious quiet, too gleefully rebellious for contemplation. He refuses to be pigeon-holed by medium (drawing-painting-sculpture-installation-performance), constrained by dimension (two, three, four…), assigned to “elite” or “pop” culture, grouped with “movements,” or confined whatsoever. Wickedly irreverent, incisive, abrupt, Grooms also candidly, personally, takes on a world we may know about, but that he clearly inhabits.

Images are full of gusto—vividly cinematic, unapologetically Technicolor, cheerfully garrulous and playful. The gallery becomes a way station, a locus of comings and goings, chance encounters, sudden occurrences, and constant distractions, more like a three-ring circus (or, famously, Grand Central Station) than an array of tidy “windows on the world.”

We’ve got to love this work; there is no possibility of polite disregard. Every particle is lavish, personal, energetic and, yes, larger than life. The three main works are salutes to Grooms’ artistic peers and his influences—defined, like the flip of a coin, by locale (Paris and New York).

YUAG Grooms CedarBar low
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. All rights reserved. ARS, New York/Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York.

The installation strategy is engaging, each portal framed with a curtain-like proscenium painted by Grooms, squirming with landmarks and caricatures (New York leading in, Paris leading out). Once across these friendly thresholds, we spill into the great room lined with three massive composite pictures (up to 26½ feet wide and 16 feet high), accompanied by a dozen or so full-scale preparatory drawings.

The show’s gift is the revelation of process—intellectual as well as physical. Grooms, in caricature, bartends for his abstract expressionist contemporaries gathered, of course, at the Cedar Bar, while across the room his artistic heroes (most notably, Picasso, but with nods to Rubens and Rousseau) strive and populate heaven and earth.

Drawing runs the gamut; all is gesture and scrub, alive with movement, with sudden shifts of scale from glimpse to glimpse, part to whole, image to image: de Kooning and Pollock wrestle at the Cedar Bar; Picasso, bald and bare-chested, in red polka-dot shorts, rides a swing in heaven, which is crowded with artists, writers, patrons and several of his discarded “muses.” In a second, less grinning impression, Picasso, back turned, struggles with Guernica. The party rolls fabulously on.

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