For one month in 1970, Dayton’s 8th floor auditorium (usually home to extravagant seasonal displays) housed artist Red Grooms’ replica of a Crystal, MN Target store. This installation, simply entitled The Discount Store, was in part just one piece in Figures/Environments, an exhibition organized by the Walker (then anxiously waiting its new home in the Edward Larrabee Barnes building) and also featuring Duane Hanson, Jann Haworth, Alex Katz, George Segal, Paul Thek, Lynton Wells, and Robert Whitman.
Grooms came of artistic age in the years of Pop Art and found himself as an artist without a home, so to speak, who defied pigeon-holing. He worked in painting, film (with Kuchar), performances, happenings (with Kaprow), and what Grooms called “sculpto-pictoramas”, constructed walk-through installations such as The Discount Store and his even larger depictions of Chicago and Manhattan.
The Target store installation consisted of hundreds of cardboard products–brooms, vacuum cleaners, sponges, guns (because they sold them back then), and other Target products, rendered in a signature Red Grooms style, all exaggerated cartoonish features and disproportionate proportions. The customers in The Discount Store, constructed from wood, were inspired by people Grooms observed in the Crystal store, like a girl selling donuts (the wooden version being 10 feet tall), and a group of women overheard saying they’d come 100 miles to buy an iron. His vision held together the installation as he brought in dozens of helpers to complete his Minneapolis piece and help paint all the elements.
What warmed me to this piece is that while it is clearly an observation on abundance and consumption in 1970 (and oh, we only need to look back at last week’s Black Friday to see how “far” we’ve come), coaxing the audience to recognize themselves in those wooden caricatures, Grooms approached this subject with a reverence, even while calling the idea of the discount store “very ugly.” “I love unreal things,” he once said, and didn’t mind being compared to Walt Disney, the master of unreal things. The massive parking lots intrigued him, he “fantasized” about their “sizes and shapes” but was disappointed by the real things. (As a personal note, I’ve also had a fascination for the layouts of parking lots since I was a kid, so this tidbit of information made me pretty happy.)
But the fascination was laced with disgust–Grooms looked forward to the nostalgia, that one day (which we are still waiting for) when “all those plastic toys will have great nostalgic value. Like guns out there. They have to be made illegal sometime so they’ll be nostalgic later.”
We’ll be showing a film from the collection all about The Discount Store during Saturday’s free open house, Wall-to-Wall Walker (the event being the impetus for my Google searching and archives browsing). It’s screening in the Cinema from 10:30 am-2 pm.