Sunday, January 13, 2013

Roaming Roosevelt Island: The Otterness Sculpture

If you walk along Roosevelt Island's western promenade, you can't miss a group of bronze sculptures by Brooklyn artist Tom Otterness. The work, created in 1996, was installed here at the edge of the East River in 2005.

According to Otterness' Wikipedia page, his style is “often described as cartoonish and cheerful, but also political. His sculptures allude to sex, class, money and race. These sculptures depict, among other things, huge pennies, pudgy characters in business suits with moneybag heads, helmeted workers holding giant tools, and an alligator crawling out from under a sewer cover. His aesthetic can be seen as a riff on capitalist realism.”

The message of the Roosevelt Island piece is pretty clear: Money has a corrupting effect on the dream of home ownership.

You would think Otterness created this piece during the recent foreclosure crisis. The fact that it was forged in 1996 means it was pre-housing bubble and well before the last two recessions.

I don't know what Manhattan rents were like in 1996, but around that time I shared a two-bedroom apartment in Cow Hollow that totaled $1,200 a month. (You could easily pay two or three times that much now.)

That also was the year the musical "Rent" came out. The title is a reference to the high cost of living, but it's hard to think of many impoverished artists living in the Lower East Side in 2013.

They didn't know how good they had it!

Well, except for the AIDS part, of course.

(For the complete "Roaming Roosevelt Island" series, click here.)