Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Chance Encounter at 3 A.M.

Red Grooms (American, born Nashville, Tennessee, 1937)
Oil on canvas
100 x 155 in. (254 x 393.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Wolfgang Schoenborn Gift, 1984
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2010 Red Grooms / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Not on view
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Red Grooms studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and with Hans Hofmann. He has become one of the most versatile artists of the twentieth century. Working as a painter, sculptor, installation artist, draughtsman, performance artist, and filmmaker, Grooms consistently infuses his work with a whimsical sense of humor. Often focusing on scenes from daily life, he approaches his subject through a lens of caricature and exaggeration, lending a cartoon-like quality to everyday incident. Grooms' sculptural tableaux of the 1970s and 1980s and his life-sized environmental installations, such as the 1976 "Ruckus Manhattan," delighted viewers with its re-creation of city scenes crammed with human incident and amusing detail in a colorful and playfully naïve style.

"Chance Encounter at 3 A.M." exemplifies the artist's distinctive style in its witty observations and quirky interpretations of well-known people and places. The picture attempts to re-create the initial meeting of two great modern artists, Willem de Kooning (seated on the right) and Mark Rothko (at the left). The idea for the picture was suggested by an article on de Kooning that Grooms read in the New York Times Magazine (November 20, 1983). As recounted in the article, the two paint-splattered artists happened to sit on the same bench in Washington Square Park in New York's Greenwich Village early one morning. Although both of them had studios in the area and already knew each other's work, they had never met face to face before. While the actual meeting took place in the 1930s, Grooms mistakenly thought it had occurred in the 1950s, hence his inclusion of such period details as the large, rounded cars and newspaper headlines about the Korean War, President Eisenhower, and Nikita Khrushchev.

Grooms imagines Rothko and de Kooning eyeing each other furtively, moments before introducing themselves. A less-than-ethereal muse, elegantly clothed in a green cocktail dress and pearls, hovers overhead holding an artist's palette and brushes. As in many of his works, Grooms dramatically condensed the space, moving the statue of the Italian hero of independence Garibaldi closer to the pair than it would be in reality. By including Garibaldi and the words of George Washington on the arch, Grooms may be drawing an analogy between historical leaders who fought for political independence and the two leaders of the then-avant-garde Abstract Expressionist movement who were pursing a new artistic path.

#929. Chance Encounter at 3 A.M.
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Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Red Grooms '84
the artist, New York (1984; sold through Marlborough Gallery, New York to MMA)

New York. Marlborough Gallery, Inc. "Red Grooms: Recent Works," April 6–May 1, 1984, no. 74.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Aspects of the City," July 31–September 30, 1984, no catalogue.

Roslyn Harbor, N. Y. Nassau County Museum of Art. "American Narrative Painting and Sculpture: The 1980's from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," August 4–November 3, 1991, unnumbered cat. (p. 14).

Mark Riebling. "'Aspects of the City' Mixes Variety of Artists and Styles." Columbia Daily Spectator (September 7, 1984), p. 5.

Richard F. Shepard. "Going Out Guide: City Lights." New York Times (August 1, 1984), p. C22.

Lisa M. Messinger in "Twentieth Century Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1984–1985. New York, 1985, p. 59, ill. (color).

Grace Glueck. New York: The Painted City. Salt Lake City, 1992, p. 31.

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