Los Angeles

Joel Otterson

Shoshanna Wayne

The embodiment of suburban rebellion, Joel Otterson’s work seems particularly apt in Los Angeles, the most suburban of major American cities. Here the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle gives no indication of ever having died; witness the nightly parade of bleached-blond, slickly made-up glam kids and dirtier, track-marked Guns ’n’ Roses wanna-bes across Hollywood Boulevard. Otterson seems intent on domesticating this rebellion by creating heavy-metal home furnishings that stress opulence and comfort. This makes perfect sense; after all no one ever fantasized about smashing up the interior of a Motel 6.

In his recent installation, Otterson combined some familiar pieces with enough new work to nearly furnish an entire house. The most commanding of his settings are the pieces for a formal dining room. God’s Promise, 1993, is an immense table of magnificently knotted redwood and myrtle burl, ebony, and petrified redwood, accessorized with glass insets, turquoise, steel, copper, and bronze plumbing, and underside neon lighting. It seems made for a feast in a modern-day Valhalla populated by the aging gods of heavy metal. We can imagine Jimmy Page passing Robert Plant a drink from the The Queen of Rock, 1994, a decanter set in delicately handblown glass with matching goblets, while Alice Cooper carves the roast with the Mr. and Mrs. Monster Meat Carving Set, 1994, produced by Artes Magnus in sterling silver. Otterson has said that “Rock ’n’ roll is one of the most important inventions of the second half of the 20th century. It’s a truly international language . . . I’m doodling on Grandma’s good china, making heirlooms for heavy metal parents to pass on to their kids.” And he has manufactured enough hand-painted vitreous china with the logos and likenesses of current, has-been, and dead rock stars and bands to provide table settings for the next Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner.

As you move around the house, the stress on utility is inescapable. Almost all the major pieces are on casters to be easily portable. Otterson has said that he wants all his work to be functional, and, in fact, many of the pieces have multiple uses. The Potted Plant Bathtub Chair, 1992, is an odd conglomeration of a cast-iron bathtub, rich upholstery, a lamp, and living plants, while Fishbowl Bathtub Loveseat, 1993, adds a large handblown-glass tank and swimming goldfish to a similar construction. Otterson multiplies the markers of functionality to such a degree that they lose their ability to signify, and we are thrown back to a conceptual investigation of the meaning of style and utility.

What unites this investigation and acts as a leitmotif for the entire exhibition is plumbing. All the furniture pieces are supported and framed by copper, steel, iron, and/or copper pipes and fittings, culminating in a moveable wall of china in which 125 pieces of ceramic, thrift-shop tchotchkes are imprisoned in a vast network of plumbing. It’s as if we are trapped both by the bourgeois desire for comfort and by our own vast internal network that sustains life yet is so fallible when confronted by disease or age. Obsolescence and death suffuse this exhibition in the form of discarded kitsch, the numerous references to dead and forgotten Pop icons, and also quite literally in a piece entitled Divine Intervention, 1994, a jukebox designed to hold the cremated remains of a friend of Otterson’s who died recently of AIDS.

Andrew Perchuk