If Derek Jeter wants to rid Marlins Park of its $2.5 million home-run sculpture, a top county official says he first needs artist Red Grooms’ approval to move the government-owned installation. And Grooms says he wants his artwork to remain right there behind center field.
“What I would like is for it to stay there,” Grooms said Tuesday night from his New York home. “I wish it would just stay there and be hit in the bean with baseballs.”
Grooms plays a central role in Jeter’s stealth request to remove the seven-story sculpture titled “Homer,” which the county commissioned for the 2012 opening of the tax-funded ballpark in Little Havana. Grooms is a friend of former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who recommended the renowned pop artist to provide the public artwork Miami-Dade required as part of the team’s 2009 deal for nearly $400 million in public financing.
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Jeter, who bought the team with partners for $1.2 billion last fall, reportedly isn’t a fan of the brightly colored sculpture, which lights up, sprays water and sends a marlin whirring whenever Miami hits a home run.
When Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez met Jeter for the first time last month at Marlins Park, the mayor confirmed that the Marlins wanted the sculpture removed and that he would try to get that done. But there is a catch. Michael Spring, a senior Gimenez deputy and the county’s director of cultural affairs, said Miami-Dade’s original agreement with Grooms gives the artist certain protections when it comes to moving the sculpture.
Under the arrangement, Grooms could “disavow” the sculpture if it is ever moved. That’s more than a symbolic flourish — Spring said a disavowal from Grooms would force Miami-Dade to mark down the value of the county-owned sculpture to virtually nothing.
“The work would lose all of its value,” Spring said. “Our working assumption is we want the artist’s endorsement. The way to get that is to convince [him we can] be both respectful of the artwork and respectful of the artist.”
He has been trying to persuade Grooms that Homer could have a dignified, vibrant life outside of Marlins Park. One idea, according to Grooms, is to move the sculpture near the county’s Pérez Art Museum Miami.
Spring said he’s been pitching the benefit of moving Homer from a for-profit ballpark charging for tickets to a public space open to all. Rather than turning on when a Marlin hits a home run, Homer could activate on a schedule — with the potential of tourists and residents turning out to snap selfies during the show.
“The interesting thing about the artwork is there’s not really any baseball imagery, except if you knew the imagery of the fish were marlins,” Spring said. “It does potentially lend itself to a new context.”
For Grooms, moving the sculpture would remove the whole concept behind Homer, which he crafted to be part of the ballpark. “It was designed to celebrate home runs, and just have some fun,” he said. “But I have to be realistic. There are some powerful forces at work here.”
Spring finds himself in an awkward position. An admirer of Grooms, he sees “Homer” as an important piece in the county’s collection of public art. His boss, Gimenez, has publicly said of the sculpture: “I’m not a fan.” Now Spring is the one charged with the delicate task of convincing Grooms to consent to moving his sculpture from its designated, county-sanctioned home.
“Red Grooms is an important American artist, and this is an important piece of work for his career,” Spring said. “He has a professional concern about his work.”
Jeter has so far declined to even publicly confirm that he wants the sculpture gone, despite what was said in private meetings with Miami-Dade. But in comments to reporters last week, the new Marlins chief executive pointedly declined to offer a compliment when asked if he liked the ballpark’s signature feature.
“It’s big. I mean, it’s unique. It’s a unique sculpture,” Jeter said. He wouldn’t answer questions about his plans for the sculpture, except to say: “We’re having a dialogue. We’re trying to figure out any ways we can make this in-game experience better for fans.”
Grooms said he’s aware of fan backlash against his creation, but that the artwork should remain where it fits best. “I hate to stay in a place where I seem to be so disliked,” said Grooms, 80. “But it was designed to be in that place. It looks good there.”
Adding Jeter to the list of detractors has Grooms going up against a man the 80-year-old artist said he’s long admired. “He’s one of the great New Yorkers,” Grooms said. “I never realized I would be getting into a fight with Derek Jeter.”
Though he lives in New York, Grooms said he doesn’t root for the Yankees or the Mets. “I’m a Marlins fan,” he said. “I switched over to them.”