Ruckus Rodeo, 1975–76, by the New York–based artist Red Grooms, will be presented at the Modern to coincide with the 2020 Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show. Grooms’s immense, walk-through work of art covers 1,237 square feet of gallery space. This “sculpto-pictorama,” as Grooms has referred to it, consists of painted two-dimensional surfaces and sculptural three-dimensional figures that celebrate the Fort Worth rodeo. Sculpture wire, canvas, burlap, acrylic paint, and a fiberglass compound known as celastic were used to construct the work’s Texas-sized, larger-than-life caricatures of rodeo archetypes—including the rodeo queen and her steed, a bucking bronc, playful rodeo clowns, and a giant yellow bull named Butter.
The Museum commissioned Ruckus Rodeo, along with ten other works, for the 1976 exhibition The Great American Rodeo. For his contribution, Grooms attended every rodeo performance during Fort Worth’s 1975 Stock Show. From his many sketches, he drew a panoramic rodeo scene spanning more than seven feet to serve as the basis for Ruckus Rodeo’s design. Grooms went back to his studio in New York to fabricate the work’s major figures. In 1976, he returned to Fort Worth with the talented 15-member group of painters, sculptors, engineers, and carpenters known as the “Ruckus Construction Co.,” who helped in the final assembly of Grooms’s robust tableau. Ruckus Rodeo was last on view in our galleries in 2005.
Ruckus Rodeo portrays the chaos, entertainment, and danger of the rodeo. Grooms’s engaging work is characterized by a grand sense of spectacle, encompassing ritual, pageantry, and disorderly commotion. The artist’s interest in folk art puppets and toys is evident, and his rich, arbitrary use of bold, unmodulated colors combined with angular contours creates a loud, brash ambience. Despite the work’s cartoonish flair, it is inflected with an urban sensibility. The characters’ outfits, for example, are more like the vibrant apparel of the urban cowboy than the typical dusty clothing of a working cowboy. Grooms has managed to balance naiveté and sophistication, parody and reality. Ruckus Rodeo celebrates the grand heritage of Fort Worth and the mythology of the American West, and it continues to be a beloved work in the Modern’s collection.