Funny-scary: Otterness and Bklyn Lyceum at Open House New York

I gave D what turned out to be the Decaying Warehouse and Community Garden tour of brownstone Brooklyn, but we did hit two spots on the OHNY schedule. Tom Otterness’s studio is at Bond Street and Fourth Avenue, where the Gowanus Canal cuts off the avenue and gives a nice view of the F train viaduct (see header for a related view).

courtesy flickr user Jackie Kever

otterness in the netherlands

He was marvelous at handling the junior questioners, who to my taste were charming at first but after a while I really wanted to hear how Tom Otterness made his art, not how a seven-year-old made his Legos into a falling gate (could his name have been Guillotine fils, I wonder?). Otterness’s work for me sits right on the fulcrum of adorable and unsettling, representation and abstraction; he doesn’t smother the fierce in order to make it palatable to kids or childish grownups (or, conversely, need to make the work repellent in order to give it punch). In the back room, where a jaguar reclined half-formed in clay, a drawing of a work in progress for a children’s zoo in San Jose depicted the cute beavers cutting down the tree in which the cute parrot was perched. That sums it up.

courtesy flickr user Ethan Oringel

Gowanus wastelands -- the warehouse has much ruder graffiti at present


From there D and I walked through the Gowanus Valley, past the disputed development wastelands of Third Avenue, stopping into the guitar store, Mazzotti Music (where I considered, as I often do, getting a ukulele or small guitar), across to Fourth Ave and Union and the Brooklyn Lyceum. There was a weightlifting class going on, and a bar mitzvah, and a couple of folks hanging out in the lounge. I’m tempted to hear their November performance of The Marriage of Figaro: if Monteverdi in a bar, why not Mozart in a bath? That’s the kind of place it is. We heard only about half of the owner’s talk, so we missed some of the discussion of old scandals associated with the former bathhouse. He also had a bunch of vintage photos and news clips. The Lyceum’s architect, Raymond Almirall, also designed the bizarrely ugly St. Michael’s Church further down Fourth in Sunset Park. I remember Fourth Avenue not quite twenty years ago, when I lived not far away, and how it was just car stuff (from dealers to Flat Fix joints) and last-chance bodegas, and now it’s those things and bars and condos. Odd.

I decided D had had enough of the Fourth Avenue experience and we went over to Fifth, stopped for coffee at Gorilla (why DO they play the music so loud, now that you mention it?) and carried it up to the Brooklyn Bears Garden where we found a bench under the straggly greens of borderline fall and drank up. Then D wanted to see Downtown Brooklyn, such as it is, and so I pointed right at each corner as we walked along Atlantic and then to Jay St-Boro Hall station. “You’re in it now,” I said as we crossed Fulton Mall, “better enjoy it, and don’t say I never take you anywhere nice.”

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