New York

Joel Otterson

Jay Gorney Modern Art

Heavy-metal-video cliché numero unosearing strains of supersonic spleen emanate from a teen’s stereo system, initiating a confrontation between Mom and Pop that culminates in broken glass, shattered china, and smashed furniture. But what happens when headbangers grow up, and have a house of their own to love and defend? Will they cherish Joel Otterson’s series “Dead Rock Star Dinner Plates” or “First and Second Generation Glitter Rock Service for Three” (both 1992)? Will they buy his sculpture/furniture (made of such heavy metals as chrome, cast iron, and copper pipe) in the hope that it will withstand the destructive impulses of their own rebellious children?

For this show, Otterson created a fully-furnished headbanger living room in the main gallery. Gathered around Fallen Angel (all works 1992), a wool carpet reproducing an image of a Led Zeppelin logo, were various examples of Otterson’s heavy-duty furniture: chairs and daybeds modeled after Chippendale originals, made mostly of cast-iron bathtubs, and upholstered with embroidered fabric and otter or beaver pelts; cast-iron tray tables that supported china dinner trays emblazoned with the logos for Harley Davidson and Motörhead; an opulent Television Vanity, made of brass and copper pipe and a two-way mirror, in case you wanted to watch someone watching TV. On the walls surrounding this cozy nucleus were iron G. I. Joe Candelabras, Muscleman Fruit Compotes, and, of course, the “Porcelains,” hand-painted vitreous china featuring the logos of various heavy-metal bands and portraits of dead favorites like Jim Morrison or T. Rex. Is there a particular occasion for which Miss Manners would recommend the Alice Cooper Desert Plate, a replica of a 19th-century Limoges dish on which Otterson painted Alice’s famous spidery-black made-up eyes?

The work in this show could be characterized as dec arts from the school of hard knocks. It operates on ironic contradictions: the chichi or precious forms it assumes (Chippendale furniture, fine china, candelabras, compotes, fireplace andirons) contrast with the industrial nature of Otterson’s materials and creative processes (a recent arts fellowship at the Kohler fixture factory in Wisconsin helped produce this work) and the iconography of hard rock. Each piece is an oxymoron, all the more so in that Otterson often insists that his sculpture/furniture is meant to be functional. In a recent interview in House and Garden, he claimed that “I want people to feel free to sleep on my beds, to spill turkey juice on the tables, to watch the TVs.” So is there any use value to what is undoubtedly the centerpiece of this headbanger living room, Venus, the Iron Maiden (a.k.a. Brenda)? The sculpture is a seven-foot-high, 800-pound, cast-iron rendition of a woman in platform shoes and scanty clothing. A high slit in her miniskirt shows her undies, and her open blouse reveals a teddy underneath. Is this goddess of love the ideal woman in the testosterone-saturated world of heavy metal? Is this a monument to the groupie? If so, we don’t have to be told what its use value is.

Keith Seward