Telluride Inside… and Out, Red Grooms and Stephen Wald

Telluride Inside… and Out, Red Grooms and Stephen Wald

Grooms, 2009, Dancing, Marlborough Chelsea (1) Telluride Inside… and Out's stories about our very memorable day in Chelsea continue with a recap of our visit to the Marlborough Chelsea Gallery, 545 West 25th Street, to see an exhibit of monumental sculptures by Red Grooms. Why we went has everything to do with jonesing for the child-like wonder of the artist's work, cosmic connections, Telluride, and our dear friend Stephen Wald.

Grooms, 2009, Dancing, Marlborough Chelsea (4) Stephen Wald died that very same Thursday, October 22, after a long battle against Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I suspect his passing happened close to the time a group of us went to the Marlborough to celebrate our friend, a successful businessman, philanthropist, accomplished athlete, photographer, and art lover/collector, because Clint and I knew Red Grooms held a special place in Stephen's life: specifically by a window in the entry hall of the elegant Aldasoro home he shared with his beloved wife Sheila, also a collector.

IMG_7024 The Walds' eclectic but unerring taste in art includes works by Christo, Alex Katz, Raoul Dufy, Walter Kuhn, Leon Krall, Fairfield Porter (recently sold) and, of course, the Grooms. Stephen acquired "Aspen Annie" in 1979 with his friend, art dealer Barbara Guggenheim.

Like all of Red Grooms' work, "Aspen Annie" is an antidote to today's headlines, rendered as she was with an attention to detail that suggests the artist's great affection for his subject. Critics who suggest Grooms' work is kitsch –  and there are a few Judases out there – are too cynical. The artist makes great art that dares to be warm, funny, blunt, and gentle in a world where cynicism is our daily bread.

Red Grooms, an immigrant from Nashville born in 1937, arrived in New York callow but ready for bear at age 20. Amazing artists such as Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg were making Happenings (theatrical events with nonlinear narratives), and Pop Art, with its reverence for "everyday crap" (Oldenburg), was emerging as a response to the non-subjective "action" paintings of the Abstract Expressionists. Applying a talent for drawing, Grooms set about creating his own Happenings from papier-mache. In a style that became his signature – broadly brushed renderings of people and places he knows intimately, presented in bright colors with a crudeness that belies a foundation in classical painting – Grooms captured the vibrancy of his adopted city, warts and all, with an in-your-face immediacy that made him the natural offspring of the Ashcan School of the early 20th century, a kind of Daumier for the here and now.

Grooms, 2009, Dancing, Marlborough Chelsea (2) When we entered Marlborough Chelsea, we were confronted with a scene straight out of "Strictly Ballroom" – but on steroids. Grooms' series entitled "Dancing" is comprised of five exuberant polychrome sculptures performing Flamenco, Tango, Charleston, Swan Lake and The Lindy Hop, each measuring more than nine feet tall. The flamboyant work communicates the romance, energy, and history of dance that inspired Red Grooms since his youth, the era of the great musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. On his move to New York, Grooms upped the ante, frequenting the New York City Ballet with his friends, a poet and a dance critic.

(If you are on your way to The Big Apple, in addition to the show at Marlborough Chelsea, The Whitney Museum of American Art is screening Red Grooms' 1960 film, "Fat Feet.")
Moving on from the main event, Red Grooms, to the sideshow, Telluride, there's just one more connection.
At Marlborough Chelsea, Melyora Kramer graciously showed our group around, but when Clint began to snap photos we were told in the nicest possible way that we needed an okay from uptown, from one Janis Gardner Cecil, to publish any Grooms images. As it turned out, Janis Gardner Cecil is married to Charles Cecil, uncle to Paul Major of the Telluride Foundation, where Stephen Wald was a founding board member. (Paul is the son of Charles’ elder half-sister, Mary Major. )

IMG_7033 When Clint and I went to the Wald house to photograph "Aspen Annie," we toured the rest of their art collection, which also includes an Etienne Atget in the office. There on the desk was an invitation from the Marlborough Gallery for the opening to the Red Grooms "Dancing." A catalog lay nearby. Sheila Wald turned to tell us how much she and Stephen regretted not being able to make the show.

(All images © Red Grooms, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photos of "Aspen Annie" and the desk by Clint Viebrock)

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