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Joel Otterson

Joel otterson

Hot Rod Shaker Box (64 GTO), 1994
Hand painted ceramic box
34 x 14 x 14 inches
Gift of Peter Norton

“American sculptor and installation artist Joel Otterson’s Hot Rod Shaker Box (64 GTO) overloads the viewer with a cacophonous barrage of styles and cultural associations. Alongside a lovingly rendered vintage Pontiac GTO emerging from a pink haze, the ceramic box features Rococo-style decorative flourishes, a green and yellow check pattern, transfer designs from dated domestic dishware, and four vignettes of pin-up girls lounging on giant pieces of fruit. Even the bottom of the object is embellished.

As the artwork’s title describes, this is a Shaker box, traditionally a utilitarian oval bentwood container. Otterson’s box retains the style’s characteristic “swallowtail” projections on its side, but these are unnecessary since the container is ceramic not wood. Although Shaker design privileges function, clean lines, and the avoidance of ornamentation, the artist covers every surface with ostentatious decoration. One year after creating this piece Otterson commented, “I’m doodling on Grandma’s good china, making heirlooms for heavy metal parents to pass on to their kids.”

By selecting imagery and motifs with particular cultural associations—macho car culture, pin-up girls, domestic dishware, and Shaker design—Otterson is able to subvert these individual references and encourage the viewer to consider ideas related to commodification, consumption, and masculinity. Otterson overloads the viewer with clashing visual and cultural cues. His work disrupts concepts of high and low culture, fine art and craft, and gender stereotypes.” – Dr. Elizabeth Shannon


34 in. x 14 in. x 14 in.

Joel Otterson (born 1959 in Inglewood, CA) is an American artist based in Los Angeles. He is known for his experimentation with domestic and ornamental objects. Otterson looks to Baroque and Rococo art for inspiration and infuses his objects with elements of pop culture. Copper pipe, woodworking, pottery, porcelain, china, earthenware, concrete, marble, stained glass, quilting, and lacemaking are the raw materials of Joel’s sculpture.  Utilizing practices such as sewing, and quilting, traditionally associated with feminine craft making, Joel turns these humble materials into muscular art.

Hot Rod Shaker Box is a reinvention of the traditional shaker boxes. This new object is created using clay that is hand-painted with an ornate, rococo-style design. The image of the vintage Pontiac GTO adds an element of masculinity to the otherwise “feminine” object. However, these seemingly contrasting elements combine to create a potent symbol of Americana, linking craft making with car-culture.


[description:] Round box with blue and green details on the bottom piece and the outline of the lid. In the center of the lid there is a blue Pontiac GTO. On the inside borders of the decorations in the lid, there is a gold outline.

Gift of Peter Norton