MIAMI -- Red Grooms isn't letting all the bad press about his kinetic sculpture for the new Marlins Ballpark get him down.
In fact, the 74-year-old pop artist -- who was born in Tennessee, lives in New York and roots for the Yankees -- said he has hardly noticed all the criticism he's received online. He's too busy nailing down the final details of the complex machinery for his publicly funded artwork, which will shoot a Marlin's nose 86 feet into the air as LEDs flash and animatronic seagulls flock whenever the team hits a home run.
Grooms hasn't heard about the reviews from Deadspin ("it is possible that it will give multiple retirees their first seizure"), SBNation ("what Bernie Brewer thinks he's sliding down after a couple buttons of peyote"), or the New Times' blog ("It's like someone vomited a bunch of cliché South Florida imagery on a Guy Harvey shirt after a rough night on South Beach and then motorized it"), since he's not much of a computer guy.
"What's the story on that?" he asked HuffPost when queried about the blogs. "I have to admit I'm not a person of this age, as far as communication."
Grooms's inspiration for the home run feature actually came not from Miami, but from trips as a young man in the 1950s to Daytona Beach and Bonita Springs.
"Once I felt it and saw it I could never forget it," he said. "Another thing I actually wanted to do was be a motel owner, because I got so excited by the motels down there. There was a tremendous boom of motels at that time in the 50s, so it was a high period of jazzy signage."
Jazzy the home run signage will be. Grooms is familiar with all the standard criticisms of his work, which predate this latest controversy by decades.
"All those descriptions of gaudy, or extremely colorful, actually do apply to the majority of my work. So as far as that's concerned, it's par for the course. But in this situation, people that aren't really in the know about art very much are seeing it very fresh. I can't say much about it because it's really in the eye of the beholder, and naturally you can't deny their take on it. And I just hope it plays well in the ballpark," Grooms said.
Grooms believes that while "diehard ballpark fans" are wary of his sculpture because of "the new trend towards old-fashioned ballparks," they will eventually be won over.
The ballpark is officially owned by the county and is being built with hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers. Under county law, 1.5 percent of the construction costs for the stadium must go to public art. So, while most fans will associate the shooting fish with the very profitable Marlins franchise, it is actually a $2.485 million monument to the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County.
That led some people to criticize the fact that the county was spending millions on a sculpture that would only be visible in the animatronic flesh to paying customers of the team's owner, art dealer Jeffrey Loria. Grooms said Loria is a friend, and approached him asking if he would enter his work in the competition for the home run display commission.
Becky Roper Matkov, a former member of the Miami-Dade Art in Public Spaces Trust, said she thought the kinetic sculpture "was a sort of an overly exuberant expression of commercialism funded by public funding. I felt that something like that should have been paid for by the Marlins, since it was for their glory."
Michael Spring, the county's director of cultural affairs, said "The Marlins always intended to have a home run feature, so it's not anything we came up with." Since the county has handed over management for the stadium over to the team, he noted, it's appropriate for them to get a say in their artwork.
The same criticisms that could be lobbed against the ballpark also apply to its parking garage, which will likewise feature a work of public art. The City of Miami, which may have to unexpectedly pay taxes on the the garage, will spend $450,000 on the design, fabrication, and installation of a bit map painting by California artist Christian Moeller. "There's no reason public buildings have to be awful," Spring said of the parking garage (the county is also managing that public art project).
Matkov said her concerns about the home run sculpture's accessibility were allayed when she heard it would be open to the general public on the Marlins' off-days. But Spring said the county was not behind any potential public tours, and the Marlins did not return a request for comment on the matter. He said the fact that many Marlins games are televised will give fans at home a chance to view the art for free.
Grooms and Spring weren't sure exactly when it would be in place (transporting the thing down to Miami will be a logistical challenge), but they were both confident it would be ready in time for the stadium's opening day in April 2012.
Grooms will be down for the Marlins' season opener. What if nobody from the team gets a home run?
"We thought about that," he said. "I don't know what to say about that. Maybe they'll just run it for the heck."
UPDATE: A spokesperson for the Marlins, Carolina Perrina, told HuffPost "there will not be tours to the home run feature."
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