Red Grooms' "The Burning Building"

Artist: John Cohen (American, born 1932)

Date: 1960

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Dimensions: 18.6 x 28 cm (7 5/16 x 11 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1997

Accession Number: 1997.503.1

Rights and Reproduction: © John Cohen


In the late 1950s, Cohen made photographs of the New York School of poets, painters, and performers at work. At the time, the implications of Abstract Expressionism-its gestural freedom, chance effects, and urban themes-gave birth to a wide array of avant-garde strategies situated in what Robert Rauschenberg called "the gap between art and life." "Happenings" by Red Grooms, Jim Dine, and Allen Kaprow were staged with an exuberant anarchy intended to break through the complacent conformity of mainstream American life. In addition to being a record of an ephemeral work, Cohen's picture of Grooms as the protagonist in "The Burning Building" reveals his deft use of cinema verité techniques such as off-kilter framing and available light. More importantly, it illuminates the Beat-era maxim that the artist's life and work are extensions of each other; in doing so, the photograph not only documents the artist at work, but embodies the creative spirit of Cohen's generation.