Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tom Otterness Dogged By His Past May Lose San Francisco Art Contract.

Thirty-four years ago, Brooklyn's Tom Otterness—you'd recognize his whimsical bronze sculptures that dot the New York City subways and streets—acquired a dog, tied it to a fence and shot it for a film he made. He recently received a $750,000 contract to make sculpture for the San Francisco subway system. Some residents of a city dedicated to animal friend St. Francis are outraged and the city leaders are re-examining the contract.

Otterness had repeatedly apologized for shooting the dog. He has said that his actions were indefensible.

Some questions: Is your reaction to public art colored by what you know about the artist? Should public art be chosen only after the artist has been vetted and proven to have a "clean" record? If so, who would decide which artists are personally worthy of a public contract? Is an often repeated apology enough to permit the setting aside of a person's decades-old repugnant action? What if the issue was the artist's sexual orientation or his race or religion?

We don't allow convicted pedophiles to become public school teachers not because of our distaste for their crime but because we don't want it repeated. Convictions mean the forfeiture of rights. In the case of Otterness and the outraged citizens of San Francisco, his new sculptures would not endanger animals. Should his previous actions be paid for by his forfeiture of the opportunity to bid on public art projects?

(photo by Tyler Hicks for the NYTimes)


  1. We are all dogged by past decisions and actions. I believe in forgiveness, but also believe in karma. This is one of his karmic moments. The citizens of San Francisco have the right to choose not to have his art represented in their public spaces because of his past cruelties. He must accept it and move on.

  2. Torturing or starving an animal, actively or neglectfully, is indefensible. But we kill animals every day for our own gratification, even if we aren't the ones who actually pull the trigger. He made a film out of his killed animal; others make shoes or dinner. Would there be outrage if his subject had been a woodchuck? A chicken? Art isn't always comfortable - or even decipherable. I give him a pass.

  3. Circle, you make a good argument for a tough position to hold.

  4. Michale Vic was responsible for hundreds of Dogs being tortured and killed and HE is a million dollar football star! Everyone has forgiven him it seems! I don;t like peopel wo shot dogs or cats or any animal, but we have a VERY double standard here!