(UPDATED 1PM) Artist Tom Otterness, whose bulbous and unthreatening public art sculptures appear all over the 14th Street and 8th Avenue subway station and many other places in the city, has repeatedly apologized for shooting a shelter dog for an art project in 1977, when he was 25-years-old. He said that it was a “mistake” which caused him “profound emotional turmoil and despair.” Previously, his 1.4 million dollar contract with the city was threatened by his less-than-cute art past, and now, an unknown intervention artist has installed uncanny Tom Otterness-like sculptures near the stairs leading to the L train platform.
First spotted by Jeff Greenspan, the sculptures feature a rounded man with a ponytail shooting a dog while smiling and standing on a bag of money, which looks a bit deflated compared to Otterness’ usual motif. Off to the side, a third sculpture depicts a similarly-stylized figure taking a photo of the scene with a phone.
“MTA crews are removing the sculpture, which appears to be made of plaster,” Deputy Director for External Communications Aaron Donovan told ANIMAL via email this morning. Later he followed up with what the MTA plans on doing with it: “We have it in storage for the time being. The sculpture was damaged, with cracks, when we got to it. It appeared that someone had taken ahold of it and tried to pull it away. Our removal process also caused a little bit of further damage at the spots where it had been attached to the station lining.”
Tom Ottorness was not available by phone for comment. His studio told us that he was “out traveling.”
Gothamist got a statement from Andrew Tider, the “Brooklyn-based creative” behind the intervention. Apparently, the sculpture of an Otterness-like man shooting a dog is not meant to shame Otterness for shooting a dog. Instead, it’s “calling him out for not including himself in Life Underground,” his subway sculpture series.
Life Underground seems to be about (among other things) corruption and questioning unchecked capitalism. The sculptures I added place Otterness (the shooter figure) within the system that he (as the artist) is wagging his finger at.
I think its important that as we wag our finger at others, we take the time to question our own place in the system(s) we participate in—whether they be a country, corporation or other unit. Otterness seems disdainful of the picture of capitalism he created with Life Underground but is he not a part of that system? Does he not profit from it? (Yes, I know he ‘donated’ much of the piece—but it serves as an advertisement for his work and generates desire for his work, for which he is compensated quite nicely I hear)
When we examine our role in society, are we proud of our actions each day, or embarrassed and using disdain for the actions of others to hide from our own shame? Could we all be living with greater integrity?
In short, the intervention criticizes Otterness for taking part in a capitalist system that he himself criticizes with his sculpture series of money-bag-grubbing top-hatted little round men — without putting himself in the piece. Though linking the caricatures of capitalism to a paid public artist seems like a bit of stretch. It is also a way for him to purge his own bad feels:
Ultimately, the piece was meant to be personal. I always liked the look of Life Underground and when I heard that Otterness had made the Shot Dog video in the ’70s it changed how I viewed the piece. I wanted to do something to make it feel positive for me once again.
And to accentuate just how personal and self-focused his work is, the artist clarifies that the third piece is a self-portrait:
With the third sculpture I call myself out as well. The third, small figure who is merely taking a photo of the scene, instead of doing something about it, is a reminder to myself that I am part of this system too and that I sometimes participate in ways I am not fully comfortable with. I hope it reminds me (and possibly inspires others) to make choices that lead to a path we feel fully proud of.
(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)