“Happenings” at the Pace Gallery

It is a great pleasure to see “Happenings” resurface at the Pace Gallery. I was part of the “Happenings” back in 1960. They involved Red Grooms.

Bill Barrell as The Walking Man at the Sun Gallery, Provincetown

I met Red in 1958. He had come to Provincetown for the summer and Irene Baker, my wife at that time, had known the girl he brought up with him, Sylvia Small. Red and I hooked up right off the bat.

I remember he had a subterranean studio in a water front building. It was dark, lit by one low watt bulb hanging from the ceiling. Red was working as a dishwasher and his paintings were of him washing dishes. The dishes were flying through the air as if he were juggling them. The colours were muddy.

Bob Thompson, Emilio Cruz, Bob Beauchamp, Salina Trieff and Bob Henry were also in town and I was drawn to this group as the figure was becoming important in my work and offered an alternative to abstract art.

Red Grooms began showing at the Sun Gallery which was run by Val and Yvonne Anderson – a young couple, she a painter, he a poet. I was intrigued by their work. Val wrote poems on the wall or windows in large script. Yvonne did constructions of buses and people in a paper mache manner painted with enamel paint. They were a great relief from the endless array of abstract art that filled all the galleries at the time. It was all dark and mysterious.

Red was building his Happening “The Walking Man” and I dearly wanted to be part of it. But he had the four people he needed. Val “The Walking Man” Sylvia the witch, Yvonne the beggar and Red as the Pasty man. I was feeling left out. It got close to opening day and Val got cold feet. Red asked me to replace him, I was elated. It was a great experience and one I knew was historic.

Another time, Red was putting together a Happening called “Magic Train” and I went to see it. It was great, the set was so alive. There was a great hoopla with the station master blowing whistles and the train raring to leave. I was so into it – it was very real to me and that train was about to leave without me. I leaped from my seat, ran up on the stage and hopped on the train. Later I asked Red if he was upset by what I had done. He said “Hell no. It proved my point and that he wished more of the audience had done the same.”

When Red came to Provincetown I helped find him an apartment. We would have dinner there and he was all for drawing on the walls in India ink. Red drew a train that ran all around the baseboards. When he left that apartment I had another friend who needed a place. I took him to Red’s old place with the landlord complaining how Red had wrecked the place. I said not to worry that it could be in a museum some day and my friend said how much he liked the decorations. On the floor were two of Red’s ink drawings. I picked them up and have them hanging in my loft. They are both quintessential Grooms. Both have men in top hats representing “The Walking Man”.

When I took over the Sun Gallery and continued in the same vein, I did my own happening called “Crash Party” and showed Ken Jacobs movies and did things like being the first to give Claus Oldenberg a show.

So, to see this period revisited gives me great pleasure. I feel this is the beginning of a closer look at what went on in that period. It was a time that got somewhat overlooked due to Pop, Op, and Color Field, but there is a treasure trove of work from that era that needs to be discovered.

Let the art historians start to dig.