Tom Otterness, The Consumer, 2007, bronze, ed. of 3, 81 x 60 x 92 inches courtesy Marlborough Chelsea
Saturday, October twentieth 2007 was a gorgeous day in New York City. If you were in Chelsea on the far West side, you would have been among hordes of tourists and locals with kids and dogs in tow. All taking advantage of the extra ten degrees we were granted for the afternoon. A perfect City day.
This may have colored my impressions of the new Marlborough Chelsea space. In fact, I’m sure it did. Why shouldn’t it?
I was there to see the Tom Otterness show “The Public Unconscious,” and was greeted by a gallery whose space effectively stretched onto sidewalk and into the street. The front wall is a large garage style door, which, for today at least, was open. This is great for taking in monumental work like Otterness’ Large Consumer from outside of the gallery.
It is also, apparently, effective in generating a crowd. With a seamless transition from street to gallery and work as easily digestible as Tom Otterness’, this is no surprise.
I spoke with Mr. Otterness a few days after visiting his show.
Andrew: I was in the gallery this past Saturday…and was immediately struck by the way people enjoy your work. Kids were laughing, running around and really studying the pieces…going so far as to count out loud the number of legs on the Large Millipede… Adults touching and tapping the bronze…taking covert pictures of themselves with the work even though the gallery attendant had asked them not to… Do you ever lurk about and watch this?
Tom: (laughing) Yeah, I Love it, its great... I’ve done it a little bit in the gallery but I feel self conscious about it in there, more so than in a public setting. I do go out in public sometimes, go out and watch people and the work, kids climbing all over it. I really love it; it’s a real payoff for me.
There was a perfect moment with the Mouse piece… A kid was looking up at it and it was looking right back...
And that’s something I pay a lot of attention to. Eye contact is really important, very important. This is something that always changes when I work larger or smaller, the head positions have to change…..
An aspect of your work that I am curious about is the genderizing of your subjects…Like with the Walking Stick and its high heels and breasts… this piece cracks me up but also leaves me a bit perplexed…
Well, some of the pieces are simply wacky, I just do what comes to mind and I’m thinking of this giant walking stick and I’m thinking she just has these heels, and I thought of her breasts as being this Romulus and Remus sort of thing… I don’t always have a story for them… I think you’ve got to make some mistakes with these things too. I like to think that I take the gender thing and throw a curve into it…And then there’s the “Immigrant Family,” its pretty straight up, the focus is on the baby. Sometimes men just marry women and they have babies you know?
Yeah yeah…where would you like to see the Immigrant Family end up?
I would love to see it on Ellis Island, on a much larger scale. That would be my dream.
The pathos in your work are often barely restrained…when do we get to see work that makes the kids run?
I like that thought, the kids running and screaming…Oh man… I think it’s there, its just buried in a lot of the work. I don’t know when they’ll really start screaming, the commissions process kind of screens that out. It’s hard to get that through the screening committee so it comes in like subliminal advertising…
Have you made any toys?
I’ve been interested in work like that for a long time, it’s just been a very difficult area to break into, to get real mass marketed toys. When I first started my sculptures were these little plaster pieces I sold for four ninety-nine, I really liked working like that…I do have some souvenirs for sale on my website for like forty dollars, I did them for Texas Tech…though I think more New Yorkers have actually been collecting them. It’s my version of their mascot but I made her with no clothes, wearing spurs and riding another student, kind of an S&M thing for Texas Tech…
Other creative pursuits?
I would like to move in the direction of anthropomorphic architecture….
Any thoughts on Marlborough’s new space?
Yeah, I think its very well designed, I Love how the whole garage door opens right up onto the street, reminds me of some places I’ve seen in India. I like that it literally does away with one of the walls of the gallery….
You can see “ The Public Unconscious” at Marlborough Chelsea through November third.https://www.marlboroughgallery.com/chelseaindex.html