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Red Grooms: Selections from the Graphic Work

(above: Red Grooms, Dalí Salad,1980, three-dimensional lithograph and silkscreen in Plexiglas dome; 26 x 27 x 12 inches, Courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum. © Red Grooms)


From June 4 through September 6, 2004, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts will present the largest collection of Red Grooms' prints ever assembled for an exhibition. Red Grooms: Selections from the Graphic Work includes over 120 works, both two- and three-dimensional, covering 40 years of printmaking by the renowned artist and Nashville native.

Created between 1956 and 1999, the works reveal the practiced hand of a master draftsman who has experimented with an array of printmaking techniques ranging from delicate softground etchings to an eight-foot-high woodblock print, to 3-D graphic versions of "sculpto-pictoramas," the large-scale environmental works for which Grooms is best known. (left: Red Grooms, Flatiron Building, 1996, etching, soft ground and aquatint; 45 x 26 inches, Courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum. © Red Grooms)

This exhibition focuses on themes that have been central to Grooms' work since the late 1950s. Galleries focus variously on images of the city and its denizens; icons of popular culture such as Elvis Presley; portraits and self-portraits; and heroes of the art world.

Grooms introduced the theme of the city in 1962 with his first commissioned print, Self-Portrait in a Crowd. The image of a jaunty, striding figure wearing a stovepipe hat on a busy street signals the artist's confidence in his quickly rising art career. In 1967, Grooms created his first life-size installation, inspired by nostalgia for the "Windy City" of Chicago, where he had studied art in the late 1950s Avenue. Four years later in 1971, Grooms portrayed the densely swarming streets of New York City in his first print portfolio No Gas. In later works, Grooms continued to portray New York with exaggerated street perspectives, outlandish people and a high degree of nervous energy.

In the gallery focused on the influence of popular culture in Grooms' work, the viewer will find humorous 3-D prints and expressive caricatures of well-known people and everyday events such as Chuck Berry, Ginger Rogers, and a basketball star. Grooms has always been drawn to the "human pageant" and captivated by boisterous crowds and rampant consumer culture. His interest in popular culture has often caused him to be considered a Pop artist, although his work forswears the cool irony of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein or James Rosenquist for an expressive immediacy that remains lively and engaging.

Portraits and figures comprise another theme in the exhibition. Like a number of other young artists active in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Grooms began turning to ordinary subjects such as his friends and family members and depicting them in a simplified representational manner. He forged his own style of figurative expressionism, often including his own image as an actor on the stage of life. This gallery features a self-portrait of the artist making a print and an image of the collector, his friend Walter Knestrick. (right: Red Grooms, Slushing, 1971, lithograph from No Gas portfolio; 22 x 28 inches, Courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum, © Red Grooms)

Beginning with the tiny linocut Five Futurists (1958), Grooms celebrates his own existence as an artist by paying homage to many of the important figures in the history of Western art. His fascination with the prolific Spanish painter Pablo Picasso is reflected by four prints. Although he respects such artistic "heroes", Grooms isn't afraid to have a little fun at their expense, as seen in Nineteenth-Century Artists (1976), a series in which he spoofs the fathers of modern art from Realist Gustave Courbet to Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne. Elsewhere, Grooms simulates the styles and subjects associated with earlier artists, such as Paul Gauguin's roughly carved woodcuts of the South Seas, Edward Hopper's light-filled New England beach scenes and the tall, thin figures of Alberto Giacometti.

Red Grooms: Selections from The Graphic Work is organized by the Tennessee State Museum and curated by Susan Knowles from the collection of Walter G. Knestrick. Locally, the exhibition is sponsored by First Tennessee. The exhibition catalogue, Red Grooms: The Graphic Work by Walter Knestrick will be available for purchase in the Frist Center Gift Shop.



Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937, Charles Rogers Grooms began his artistic experimentation while in grade school. He took his first formal art lessons at the age of 10, attending art classes at the Nashville Children's Museum. In 1952, while at Hillsboro High, Charles Grooms and fellow art student Walter Knestrick -- who became an important collector of the artist's work -- struck up a life-long friendship. As a high school Senior, Grooms presented his first show, a two-person exhibition at Nashville's Lyzon Gallery, with Knestrick. (right: Red Grooms, South Sea Sonata, 1992, three-dimensional lithograph in Plexiglas case; 20 3/8 x 21 x 11 3/8 inches, Courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum. © Red Grooms)

After studying briefly at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the New School for Social Research in New York, Grooms returned to Nashville to attend Peabody College, where he completed his first print, Minstrel, in the fall of 1956 (which is on view in this exhibition). The following year, Grooms enrolled in Hans Hofmann's school of painting in Provincetown. While there, the young artist became interested in filmmaking and performance art and was dubbed "Red" because of the vibrant color of his hair.

After moving to New York in 1957, Grooms and studio-mate Jay Milder turned part of their shared loft into the City Gallery, mountings show by fellow artists such as Lester Johnson, Jim Dine, Alex Katz, Claes Oldenburg and Bob Thompson. While in New York, Grooms also participated in a number of "Happenings," including his most famous performance art piece The Burning Building, a 10-minute theatrical event presented in December 1959. The artist was also drawn to filmmaking, and created 12 films of varying lengths.

In 1963, Grooms' art career took off with his first "uptown" show at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and a full-length article in Art News, which appeared in 1966. Grooms created major "picto-sculptoramas" during this period that can now be found in the Art Institute of Chicago, the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN) and the Museum of Modern Art (Forth Worth, TX).

Working from 1994 - 1998, Grooms created an artistic icon for Nashville's Riverfront Park when he produced 34 life-sized carousel figures for the Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel, a working amusement ride featuring figures from Tennessee's history.

A versatile artist, Grooms has also created theatre sets for the National Dance Institute, Minneapolis Children's Theatre and the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, NC. In 1999, he gained full member status at the National Academy of Design, with the presentation of his diploma piece Manhattan Lulluby.




Red Grooms: Creating the Carousel

June 4 - September 6, 2004


On view in the Conte Community Arts Gallery, this exhibition shows the development and production of Red Grooms' whimsical Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel and includes preparatory drawings, watercolor studies, and models and casts of actual elements of the piece. Included with Grooms's designs are proposals for new theme park rides created by students from Hillsboro High School.


Project Access

June 4 - September 6, 2004


The Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Nashville Public Library received a National Leadership Grant in 2003 from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to fund Project Access. Computer terminals in this exhibition introduce the website for Project Access, www.projectaccess.org. A special component of the site allows visitors to have works of art created in ArtQuest, the Frist Center's interactive education gallery, posted on the website and to write a narrative about their work of art.

In addition to the website, the grant funds a multiple visit program for adult English Language Learners. This program introduces participants to the Frist Center and the Nashville Public Library and provides opportunities for participants to practice visual art and writing skills through the development of personal narratives. Computer literacy skills are also targeted in the program. Works of art created by these ELL participants will also be on view during this exhibition.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts will present a series of programs intended to enhance the visitor's experience of the featured exhibition Red Grooms: Selections from the Graphic Work. Programs include a Red Grooms film series, a Family Day and two lectures highlighting the works.


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