‘If you ever saw Francis Bacon’s studio, it was a world-class disaster,” says Red Grooms. “It was quite a mess.” To accurately depict that disorder in his sculptural Portrait of Francis Bacon (1990), Grooms collected a miscellany of used art supplies and other well-worn objects from his own studio and included them in the piece, portraying Bacon—legs crossed, hands clasped—right in the middle of the clutter. This diorama is as playful and narrative as a pop-up book, and it’s one of eight such works included in the show “Red Grooms’ New York City” at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan through January 5. (Grooms has a concurrent show of his homages to 20th-century artists at the Yale University Art Gallery through March 9.)
As the exhibition’s title suggests, the pieces here center on the vibrancy, electricity, and liveliness of New York City. Another tableau called Rockefeller Center (1995) depicts the Midtown landmark towering over a bustling crowd of tourists, shoppers, and passersby. And in Wollman Rink (2003), the artist created a bi-level, light-up model of the famous Central Park ice rink. On the top tier, people of varying skill levels skate beneath the city skyline and on the bottom, maintenance crews and officials oversee the rink’s operating system.
The show also includes special programming that allows visitors to create their own Groomsian projects. Halley Harrisburg, chair of the museum’s board and director of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, says that when she brought her eight-year-old daughter, Bella, to the exhibition, “she spent a lot of time sketching.” In addition to drawing supplies, children are provided Model Magic clay and various recycled materials to construct models of their favorite New York City attractions. And tape and colorful fabrics are available for ambitious creators to make two-tiered, Wollman Rink–inspired sculptures.
As museum director Andrew Ackerman explains, Grooms’s quirky techniques and skewed perspectives lend themselves particularly well to young audiences. “But I think that one of his greatest achievements is that he never left childhood.”