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Pop-art icon Red Grooms’ ‘Ruckus Rodeo’ takes over Longmont Museum with colorful caricatures

Installation presents larger-than-life view of western tradition

Red Grooms, Ruckus Rodeo (detail), 1976, mixed media; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; © Red Grooms, Member of Artists Rights Society (ARS). Longmont Museum is hosting the “Ruckus Rodeo” exhibit through Jan. 5, 2020.
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Few images loom larger in the popular conception of the freewheeling and ever-so-Wild West than that of a rough-and-tumble rodeo cowboy holding court (or at least holding on for dear life) atop a bucking bull. It’s a larger-than-life image, and one that would seem almost impossible to capture in a piece of art. But if there was ever an artist up to the task, it would surely be renowned New York pop-artist Red Grooms.

Red Grooms, Ruckus Rodeo (detail), 1976, mixed media; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; © Red Grooms, Member of Artists Rights Society (ARS). Longmont Museum is hosting the “Ruckus Rodeo” exhibit through Jan. 5, 2020.

Sure enough, Grooms dared to attempt to do just that in 1975 when he undertook a project that began with him immersing himself in and sketching scenes from the Fort Worth rodeo for one week. The resulting installation, which he titled “Ruckus Rodeo,” is nearly as dramatic as the events it sought to capture, which include not just the danger of a bull bucking a cowboy, but also the colorful chaos of an entire day at the corrals. The exhibit, which opens Friday, will be on display at the Longmont Museum through Jan. 5, 2020.

“It’s a real coup for the Longmont Museum to showcase this iconic walk-through sculpture by the much-loved artist, Red Grooms,” said Gwen Chanzit, Denver Art Museum Curator Emerita in a news release. “The lively work captures the excitement and free-for-all atmosphere of the western rodeo. With its colorful, three-dimensional caricatures of rodeo favorites, the installation is bound to be popular with visitors of all ages — whether regulars at rodeos or never-beens.”

“Ruckus Rodeo” is a presence. The first thing most visitors will surely notice is its overwhelming scale. The installation, which takes over more than 1,200-square-feet of space, spans the museum with three-dimensional legendary rodeo figures that Grooms created from his inspiration of attending that famed Texas rodeo, which has been held in Fort Worth since 1896. Grooms calls the work a “sculpto-pictorama.”

Dominant is the massive yellow bull, named Butter, with its rider struggling to stay astraddle, but a closer look will reveal a rodeo queen, a barrel racer, a clown and a steer wrestler among the lively display. Unwilling to eschew authenticity, the piece also depicts one rider who was thrown from his horse and another rider who suffered an unfortunate injury.

Each piece is made from a material called celastic, a plastic-impregnated fabric soaked in acetone, and methyl ethyl ketone, which is initially pliable and able to be molded into the exhibit’s distinctive forms before it hardens. For “Ruckus Rodeo,” Grooms used wire, canvas, burlap, acrylic paint and fiberglass to construct the work’s rodeo archetypes, according to a news release.

If the piece’s overpowering size is the first thing visitors notice, its continual color assault is a close second. The piece’s bright and poppy palette simulates images of the world’s most colorful candy store — or perhaps a comic book that has come to life.

  • LONGMONT, CO – JUNE 6: Aileen Jijina works on the “Ruckus Rodeo Pop Art & Cowboy Culture” exhibit June 6, 2019 at the Longmont Museum & Cultural Center. The exhibit, which opens June 14th, will display Red Grooms’ larger-than-life “Ruckus Rodeo” work which depicts the Fort Worth Stock Show rodeo. On loan from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the exhibit, containing several large pieces, will take six people one week to assemble. It will be on display into January. (Photo by Lewis Geyer/Staff Photographer)

  • LONGMONT, CO – JUNE 6: Work has begun on the “Ruckus Rodeo Pop Art & Cowboy Culture” exhibit June 6, 2019 at the Longmont Museum & Cultural Center. The exhibit, which opens June 14th, will display Red Grooms’ larger-than-life “Ruckus Rodeo” work which depicts the Fort Worth Stock Show rodeo. On loan from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the work, containing several large pieces, will take six people one week to assemble. It will be displayed into January. (Photo by Lewis Geyer/Staff Photographer)

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Curator Jared Thompson worked with a team from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth — the permanent home of “Ruckus Rodeo” — to install the piece in Longmont. Thompson said the Fort Worth museum’s director wanted to bring the piece to Longmont because not only will Colorado visitors of all ages adults resonate with the piece, but it would also provide a chance for the town to temporarily house an iconic piece of Grooms’ art.

“It’s just a really cool immersive piece, it’s almost like being in a painting,” Thompson said. “It’s definitely something different that no one has seen before in Longmont.”

Grooms, who mainly captures chaotic scenes of modern life in pop-art constructions, has work in museums and public spaces across the world, including spots in Colorado. His 1982 sculpture “The Shoot-Out,” which depicts a cartoonish scene of a cowboy and Native American shooting at one another, long adorned the roof of the Denver Art Museum, while his 1977 painted steel structure “Brooklyn Bridge” is permanently housed at Englewood’s City Center. In April, Grooms was presented a lifetime achievement award from the International Sculpture Center.

But while “Ruckus Rodeo” is undoubtedly the focal point of the Longmont Museum exhibition, Thompson said museum staff aimed to build on the rodeo connection by presenting information about the local history of the sport. The exhibition begins in the entry to the gallery and is comprised of a series of historic objects and text describing the origins of bull riding and cowboy culture. The museum dives into the often-debated origins of the rodeo, including the claim that Arapahoe County’s Deer Trail, on the plains east of Denver, played host to the world’s first rodeo in 1869. Accompanying history bits are several historic rodeo photos provided by the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, the Fort Morgan Museum and other sources from around the state.

Red Grooms, Ruckus Rodeo (details), 1976, mixed media; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; © Red Grooms, Member of Artists Rights Society (ARS). Longmont Museum is hosting the “Ruckus Rodeo” exhibit through Jan. 5, 2020.

Because the museum also attracts a particularly high volume of children visitors during the summer months, Thompson said the museum also prioritized creating a hands-on aspect for younger visitors to enjoy. There is a corral area set up in the museum’s courtyard that is filled with interactive elements that bring the cowboy theme to life, including a mini-bucking hobbyhorse obstacle course where kids can bounce on balls decorated to look like rodeo animals. There is also an area for children to try on cowboy gear and a veterinarian station, where kids can utilize veterinary tools and perform checkups on plush animals.

“One thing our rodeo committee kept stressing was how important the animals are in a rodeo and how well cared for they are,” Thompson said. “People think the animals get abused, but it’s really not that way, these animals are incredibly loved, and so we wanted to do something to represent that.”

Still, Thompson said kids and parents alike will likely get the biggest thrill out of seeing “Ruckus Rodeo” itself.

“We’ve had some good reactions so far,” Thompson said. “Everyone says it’s almost disorienting because it’s so rife with angles going everywhere and the scale is huge.”


If You Go

What: “Ruckus Rodeo: Pop Art and Cowboy Culture”

When: June 14-Jan. 5

Where: Longmont Museum, 400 Quail Road, Longmont

Cost: $5-$8

What: Chuck Wagon Dinner & Square Dance

When: 6-9 p.m. June 29

Cost: $17.50-$25

Etc.: Join a good old-fashioned hoedown and some genuine cowboy grub in celebration of the “Ruckus Rodeo” exhibition. There will be live fiddle and banjo, square dancing and food and drink. “Put on your fancy western duds, break out your bolo tie and shine up those boots,” museum staff said. Prizes will be awarded for best dressed.

More Info: longmontmuseum.org or 303-651-8374

 

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