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The Human Comedy: Portraits by Red Grooms


The Gibbes Museum of Art announces the opening of the bold and boisterous exhibition The Human Comedy: Portraits by Red Grooms. The exhibition, organized with the full participation of the artist and curated by the National Gallery of Design's Isabelle Dervaux, includes 75 paintings, sculptures and works on paper ranging from intimate sketches of friends and family to large, three-dimensional constructions portraying such twentieth century personalities as Mae West, Jesse Helms, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. (right: Red Grooms (American, b. 1937), Frank Stella, 1986, oil pastel and pencil on paper, The Progressive Corporation, Cleveland Ohio)

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Red Grooms has worked in the traditional genre of portraiture throughout his nearly 50-year career, creating a veritable portrait gallery of "who's who" in the worlds of art, politics, literature, stage and film. A draftsman, painter, sculpture and printmaker, Grooms draws upon his love of theatre and his skill as a storyteller to produce vibrant works that jump off the wall. By incorporating trademark features and accessories into his portraits, Red Grooms brings his sitters to life, revealing much more than simply their physical characteristics.

The Human Comedy: Portraits by Red Grooms highlights the satirical wit, humor, and impassioned, emotional approach to portraiture that distinguishes Grooms from many of his American contemporaries who were more engaged by abstraction and photography. From early, intimate sketches of family and friends to daring, three-dimensional constructions of significant cultural figures, The Human Comedy: Portraits by Red Grooms explodes the traditional two-dimensional portrait into the dramatic realm of mixed-media sculpture. The Human Comedy explores Grooms's ability to dissolve conventional boundaries that separate the sophistication of high art and the naiveté of low art, while simultaneously incorporating the cartoonist's caricature.

"From the beginning of his career, Grooms has been fascinated by the appearance, personality and life of other artists. Relying on well-known photographers and famous anecdotes, he portrays artists as cultural icons rather than as masters of high art," states Curator Isabelle Dervaux. "In complex, three dimensional prints such as "Dali Salad" (1980), Grooms conveys the outrageous public persona of the famous Surrealist by showing his head emerging from a bed of lettuce- intending to present him as 'overripe'-with bulging eyes of Ping-Pong balls," said Dervaux.

Although Red Grooms has not yet received the accolades reserved for artists that spearhead movements, The Human Comedy: Portraits by Red Grooms demonstrates that the artist has developed a style of social commentary that is highly original and important. The Human Comedy examines the ways in which Red Grooms, working with a centuries-old tradition, has upset many of its conventions, and in doing so, reinvented portraiture for the 20th century.

"The walls of the Gibbes will dance this fall with Grooms's incredible use of color and skill for capturing the essence of an individual's character," states Betsy Fleming, executive director of the Gibbes Museum of Art. "Personality, character, and charisma are such hot topics these days in terms of politics, business and celebrity-watching. The exhibition is timely. Grooms's Southern background and international success will inspire artists and art lovers throughout the region."

The Human Comedy: Portraits by Red Grooms will be on view through December 14, 2003. The third exhibition to feature portraiture in the Gibbes Museum of Art's fall exhibition schedule, The Human Comedy will be on view concurrently with Works By Warhol: From the Cochran Collection and Face Lift: Fresh Encounters with Portraiture at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

The Human Comedy: Portraits by Red Grooms is made possible through the generous support of Gibbes, Etc. Gibbes Etc., one of the museum's three principal auxiliary groups and the only entity based on Kiawah Island, includes over 150 women interested in the visual arts and dedicated to raising funds to support the museum.

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