Red Grooms: The Blue and The Gray

Opens October 8, 2016

Red Grooms. The Fall of Fort Sumter, 2002.  Oil on wire spool, 15 ½ inch

The Civil War, America’s story, is told by Red Grooms, who for 50 years has brought city and country life to sculpture and canvas with a truth that he inflects with compassion and humor.

Long linked to the Hudson River Museum by The Bookstore, a “walk-through” sculpto-pictorama installed in 1979, Grooms, in this exhibition, turns to the story of the war waged by America’s Northern and Southern states over 100 years ago. Red Grooms: The Blue and The Gray opensat the Hudson River Museum on October 8, 2016. No closing date has been set.
Red Grooms’ paintings and installations are a parade of personalities and the Civil War presented him with a new canvas of people ─ steely-eyed generals—Grant, Jackson, Sherman; femme-fatale Southern belles and Union spies; and, soldiers in blue and gray who, with little ammunition or food, bravely bore the brunt of battle but could be brought to tears by a letter from home. Growing up in Tennessee, Grooms was fascinated by military history and the Civil War, and as a mature artist chronicling the conflict he delved into the photographs of Matthew Brady, one of America’s first photographers who was known for his scenes of the Civil War.

In oil and graphite Grooms records this war’s panorama in portraits and battle scenes on sliced logs and on wood. The faces of African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass and of John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery, both appear.  A painting of African American men is titled Group of Contrabands, the term for slaves who escaped to Union lines. Another shows African American Union soldiers at Fort Negley in Nashville.  The Union’s Major General George Custer is painted with the attitude for which he was famous and there are three silver-haired Robert E. Lees. Above the warring sides stands President Abraham Lincoln, whom Grooms paints in two portraits. In the line of Lincoln’s lips and the square of his shoulders, Grooms gives us the leader who carried the country through the scarring time to save the Union.

The Blue and The Gray is based on an exhibition organized by the Tennessee Museum and its presentation at the Hudson River Museum features Red Grooms’ new installation created for its showing in Westchester ─ Lincoln On the Hudson. Inspired by President-elect Lincoln’s 1861 train journey to his inauguration, begun in Illinois and heading east to Washington DC, it passed through New York State’s Buffalo and Albany, and then moving south made a stop at the village of Peekskill, possibly because Lincoln was an old friend of local Attorney William Nelson, who had served with him in the United State Congress.

Grooms reimagines Lincoln standing at the open back of the train, townspeople waving, brass band hooting, and just beyond — the Peekskill Railroad Station and the Hudson waterfront. The scene’s conviviality is touched by the sadness of seven states already leaving the Union and the soon-to-be struggle to win them back. From the back of the train, Lincoln speaks briefly: I will say in a single sentence, in regard to the difficulties that lie before me and our beloved country, that if I can only be as generously and unanimously sustained as the demonstrations I have witnessed indicate I shall be, I shall not fail... (New York Morning Express, Wed., Feb. 20, 1861).

Grooms, a longtime New York City resident and artist, originally from Nashville, Tennessee, began his career in the city during the late 1950s and early 60s, during the creative fervor of SoHo “happenings” and the advent of Pop Art. From the 1960s to the 70s, Grooms produced a series of bright-colored installations viewers could walk through like Philadelphia Cornucopia and Ruckus Manhattan.  In the 1990s Grooms returned to his exploration of the Civil War that interested him in his youth.

Organized by the Hudson River Museum.

Tom Burckhardt: FULL STOP
October 8, 2016 – February 12, 2017

Tom Burckhardt. Full Stop, 2005-2006

Tom Burckhardt has created a 3-D immersive environment filled with the materials of a modern painter toiling in romantic obscurity. FULL STOP (2005-06) is a full-scale replica of a mythical artist’s studio made of cardboard, wood, glue, and flat black paint. The installation, 10 feet high by 18 feet wide is filled with art historical references, such as Jackson Pollock’s shoes and Jasper Johns’s Savarin coffee can that here holds paintbrushes. The viewer who enters the walk-through studio observes the tools for art making and art books that provide inspiration, but sees no product.  In the center of the studio stands an empty canvas. Burckhardt said, “I wanted to capture the situation when an artist has run out of ideas and is blocked…”, or, comes FULL STOP.  Burckhardt, himself, is the foil for the “block.” His studio appears grounded somewhere between the 1940s and 60s, a time when painting moved from Abstract Expressionism to  Pop Art, and then on to the conclusion that it was obsolete, an idea embodied by the empty canvas at the center of the installation. This narrative of nullity comes up against Burckhardt’s own energy. He wanted a lively cartoon quality and  chose a brown palette — “Rather than painting it in full color, I like the cartoon quality of black and tan, so you can really see that it’s cardboard.”
          Tom Burckhardt’s many installations include his restoration of The Bookstore, a Pop Art masterpiece by Red Grooms, and a permanent installation at the Hudson River Museum.

Tom Burkhardt: FULL STOP is curated by Michael Goodson, Director of Exhibitions, Columbus College of Art & Design in collaboration with the artist.