A new mural on Manhattan’s Lower East Side—situated just between SoHo and Chinatown—envisions Little Red Riding Hood as a young, sassy New Yorker. Wearing a revealing blue jumper and shiny platform heels, the stunning redhead struts confidently down the street, seemingly unconcerned by the hungry wolf on her trail.
Crafted by Red Grooms, the mural sneakily marks the speakeasy-like entrance to his sinister, magical, and all-around engrossing new exhibition at Marlborough Broome Street. Titled “Red Grooms: Beware a Wolf in the Alley,” the fairy tale–inspired show will be up through March 23.
Inside, Grooms’s sprawling, foam-rubber funhouse The Alley occupies the majority of the gallery. The cartoonish construction, which was originally installed in Marlborough’s London space in 1985, features a dimly lit row of ramshackle townhouses lined with a menagerie of tenants, factory workers, garbage, and animals.
The immersive installation, or “sculptopictorama” as the artist calls it, is modeled after Cortlandt Alley, a quintessential downtown alleyway just steps from Grooms’s longtime Tribeca studio. He recalls that 30 years ago, the neighborhood was a far cry from the commercial district it is today. “In the ‘80s,” he says, “the alley still had its cobblestones. Exhaust pipes from the sweat shops would create puffs of steam, and of course there was graffiti.” He quips, “It was very atmospheric.”
Regularly, Grooms would interact with the oddball characters who spent days squatting on the stoops of this pre-gentrified enclave—some of whom earned nicknames like “Captain Ahab,” “Jackson Pollock,” and “The Shouter” from the artist and his friend Tom Burckhardt.
These experiences are echoed here. Just as Red Riding Hood took a tumultuous journey into the woods, viewers walk through Grooms’s garish passageway and encounter eccentric figures like a denim-clad man presiding over a trashcan fire, a rotund woman angrily pursuing a police officer, and a pair of old men caught in a scuffle.
When the trek through the alleyway finally comes to an end, the narrow street opens up to a bountiful painted forest, which was crafted by Grooms and his wife, Lysiane Luong. In the center, a projector screens the artist’s 16mm film Little Red Riding Hood (1978).
The film was directed by Grooms and shot by Tom Burckhardt’s father, famed photographer Rudy Burckhardt, who took many photos for this magazine. Filmed in the backyard of the Burckhardts’ Maine summer house, the movie is a madcap retelling of the gothic tale.
In Grooms’s version, Tom Burckhardt comically acts as the wolf, his mother plays Red Riding Hood’s mom, Grooms’s young daughter, Saskia, is cast as the protagonist, and the artist himself makes an appearance as a postman. “I wanted it to be like an Albanian film,” he says. “It would be very heartfelt and a very intimate experience.”
This intimacy is conveyed in the film as Grooms and his friends, all dressed in elaborate costumes, playfully act out each scripted scene. One of the most striking moments of this zany production comes when the group enacts the tale’s dramatic ending. Using rudimentary visual effects and props, Red is excised from the belly of the dead wolf by two woodmen, played by Rudy Burckhardt and actor Titus Welliver.
The wild unpredictability of the woods is akin to the menacing New York scene Grooms presents in The Alley. By inserting Red Riding Hood into this urban environment, he poses the question—Would she have been any safer here than she was in the woods?
An exhibition of the artist’s three-dimensional collages will open at Marlborough’s 57th Street location next Wednesday.