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Red Grooms, the Perfect Artist for the Entertaining New Miami Marlins

The Marlins got some big Chicago names this offseason: Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, and Mark Buehrle. But the loudest and splashiest is a legendary Art Institute dropout.

I loved the way everything he did crushed itself into some fragile world, the rickety clusters of parts all packed together and then, standing back, you could see the complex whole of it all. Grooms’s stuff spoke volumes to me. He was the artist I checked out most…. There was a connection in Red’s work to a lot of the folk songs I sang. It seemed to be on the same stage. What the folk songs were lyrically, Red’s songs were visually—all the bums and cops, the lunatic bustle, the claustrophobic alleys—all the carnie vitality… everything hilarious but not jokey… I loved the way Grooms used laughter as a diabolical weapon. Subconsciously, I was wondering if it was possible to write songs like that. —Bob Dylan on Red Grooms, his favorite artist

 

Like so many snowbirds, two of Chicago’s most entertainingly notorious sports figures departed Chicago this winter for the sunny climes of South Florida, home of excess (both financial and otherwise). First it was Ozzie Guillen, who took his talents and his Twitter account—which should mesh well with Logan Morrison of @LoMoMarlins fame—to South Beach. Now his friend Carlos Zambrano joins him, part of a big off-season haul that includes Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

But the splashiest, loudest off-season Chicago acquisition the Marlins made wasn’t Ozzie or Big Z: it’s poetically named Art Institute dropout Red Grooms (a Tennessee native, if the name doesn’t immediately suggest it) and his $2.5 million centerfield home-run sculpture, which looks like a collaboration of Marilyn-statue artist J. Seward Johnson and AIC grad LeRoy Neiman, or a Katy Perry video set. This is not Wrigley Field. Did I mention it moves?

The “exploding scoreboard” was the brainchild of White Sox owner and famous midcentury Pop Artist Bill Veeck, who introduced it to Comiskey in 1960, so it’s poetic that an Art Institute legend would be drafted to create the Marlins’ own for their new stadium.

Grooms didn’t actually last very long at the AIC. He packed up and moved to New York to attend the New School for Social Research, where he didn’t last very long either. But he fell in with the Happenings crowd of Claes Oldenburg—himself an AIC grad, former City News Bureau reporter, and future Pop Art star known for massive installations—and his career took off. But Grooms’s breakthrough work came from a return to the city: City of Chicago, a massive three-dimensional walk-through painting/sculpture/set that filled the Allen Frumkin Gallery at its debut in 1968 with hallucinatory, towering figures of Mayor Daley, Hugh Hefner, Abraham Lincoln, and Al Capone, capturing the chaotic city on the brink of revolution. The piece put him on the cover of Look; the next year, influential art critc Peter Schjeldahl would compare him to Marcel Duchamp in a New York Times review.

City of Chicago was Grooms’s first venture into the realm of interactive sculpture—he’s called himself a sculptopictoramatist—and he’s followed the concept throughout his career, going on to create massive scenes of his adopted home of New York.

Now Grooms’s work is center stage in Miami, and the very-new-look Marlins couldn’t have picked a better artist to represent them: rickety clusters of parts all newly packed together, decked out in Art Deco under the Florida sun, promising either chaos or greatness, and guaranteeing entertainment (h/t @nocoastoffense).

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