For those New Yorkers struggling to figure out what to do this humid week – especially those planning an unusual first date – Los Grumildos, the puppet instillation tucked into the basement space at HERE, might be the perfect answer. These extraordinarily crafted mechanized puppet tableaux are bound to stimulate many a lively conversation.
From the humanoid octopus with fedora crooning away an unheard tune to a go-go boot sporting fly, which has a bald man’s head that suggests the insect has been crossed with Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen in a particularly malevolent mood, the puppets are marvels. With the exception of headdresses and footwear, none of the creations wear any real clothing, so phalluses, often bobbing rhythmically in tandem with other arm and leg movements, and a few breasts, most notably sagging off the feline lead singer of a four-member band, are on full display. Neither obscene nor whimsical, nor perverted nor fanciful, the anatomically correct mutations are intriguing and, given their tiny scale, strangely beautiful.
While the individual puppets, which also include a very cool man-scorpion, and two band displays fascinate, it’s the mammoth installation of a bar and bordello in the back of the space that truly astounds; it’s a three-story house that looks like it might be found somewhere in New Orleans’ Latin Quarter or perhaps Paris’ Left Bank. Downstairs, nude puppet patrons play cards and revel while upstairs, three other scenes unfold. In one room, a man and woman are engaged in sex, while just next door a man sits on his sofa in seeming sad loneliness. On the third floor, a woman sits on her bed playing a small guitar with a bow. The details — from the collage of photos that wallpaper the third story room to the small items that adorn the back of the bar downstairs — are immaculately rendered.
As for the live audience, some snap pictures with their phones and digital cameras, while others retire to the small lounge areas that are set up around the space to chat and enjoy a glass of wine or a beer. All the while a light fog is pumped into the space, a wildly eclectic soundscape (music ranges from an Andrews Sisters-like rendition of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” to standard Italian ballads), and a disco ball spins. These elements, combined with the puppets on display, create the effect of being in a very cool club.
By Andy Propst