Red Grooms’ The Bookstore

In 1979, Red Grooms created The Bookstore as a working gift shop for the Hudson River Museum, which it served as for nearly 30 years. After extensive conservation, it was re-installed in 2008 in the Thomas Voter gallery, where it remains today.

Red Grooms. <i>The Bookstore</i>, 1978–79. Restored by Tom Burckhardt, 2007–08. Mixed media installation. Hudson River Museum Purchase (80.4.1).

Photo: Yuliya Levit

The Bookstore, which was the first of Grooms’ environmental sculptures to be a permanent installation in a museum collection, incorporates many of the themes that run through his work: the marriage of art and commerce, the clash of high and low, colorful New York characters, humor, and an inviting three-dimensional space that envelops and transports the viewer. Grooms offers visitors the choice of two entrances: the stately, scholarly Pierpont Morgan Library, whose architecture he loved, or the busy, modest Mendoza’s Book Company, the oldest secondhand bookshop in NYC, in whose bustling, crazy-quilted setting he reveled until it closed in 1990. To him, the combination his “idea of heaven.”

An atmosphere of exuberance envelops visitors in the form of dazzling color, decoration, and pattern, which recall the ornamentation of late 19th-century Victorian interiors like those found in Glenview. Each time a visitor encounters and enters the piece, they experience a creative moment, or “happening,” during which they are transformed from passive audience into active performer. The Bookstore was one of a limited number of works in which Grooms incorporated vinyl figures. The figures are painted from the inside, a technique inspired by medieval glass-painting techniques, and then are stuffed and sewn.

Red Grooms, a cultural icon since the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, creates paintings and sculptures with bright colors, expressionist verve, and theatricality that have an immediate impact and accessibility. Raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Grooms moved to New York in 1956 and immersed himself in the downtown cultural scene. He made films and participated in “Happenings”—both of which involved the creation of artistic stage sets. From City of Chicago in 1967 to Rukus Manhattan in 1975, Red Grooms evolved large-scale artworks into complex environments inviting audience participation.