As you no doubt have heard, on Friday the news broke that a $750,000 contract was awarded to NY-based sculptor Tom Otterness for 59 sculptures to decorate the Central Subway. Though Otterness’ art dots the urban landscape of many metropolitans, he’s notorious for something far darker, causing local officials to decry the decision to display his work in our city.
Back in 1977, Otterness adopted a rescue dog, chained it to a fence, then shot it, recording the gruesome act and entitling it, “Shot Dog Film.” Otterness has issued multiple apologizes for the incident, which occurred 34 years ago.
He apologized to the Ex again on Friday afternoon, stating that
“I appreciate your mentioning my many previous apologies. As I have said, what I did is indefensible. It was a terrible mistake, born out of the deep despair I was feeling at that time of my life (I was 25 years old). I have spent the 34 years since then living with my mistake, and trying to bring joy into the world through my public art. I am deeply honored to have had my work chosen for the San Francisco subway and I hope that seeing the work might help people forgive me for my horrible mistake many years ago.”
The incident continues to haunt Otterness outside of SF as well, as he recently lost a similar lucrative contract to install works in NYC’s Battery Park. With petitions and signatures, that contract was taken from Otterness even though his “penny park” already adorns the north end of Battery Park.
In the NYC as well as the SF case, officials questioned Otterness’ lack of transparency, though a quick google search of Otterness turns up more than enough information.
“We learned of this last night,”San Francisco Arts Commission president P.J. Johnston told ABC7 late Friday. “I got a call from Mayor Lee who was extremely upset this afternoon when he heard of this news and I’ve been directed, as president of the Arts Commission, to place a halt on any further work on this particular art installation.”
That the decision-making officials were all unaware of the Otterness issue was of concern to many. SF Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said “The background research on this artist was inadequate. Had it been more thorough, I highly doubt the contract would have been awarded to him,” to the Ex, and Curbed SF mused “perhaps they never heard of a thing called ‘Google,'”
The Ex reports that SF Mayoral candidate and current Senator Leland Yee set up a petition drive Friday demanding the agreement be rescinded, and the Chron reports that people are signing it in droves.
For SF Supervisor and Mayoral candidate John Avalos, the issue is neither cost nor Otterness’ past mistakes but the fact that Otterness is from Brooklyn. As the Ex reports, Avalos, who is known for his advocacy of hiring local, believes that the $750,000 contract should be going to a local artist.
Avalos is succinct in his desires, saying on the subject of Otterness’ dog-shooting incident, “That’s an awful thing to do. That’s an issue, but we should be hiring a local artist.”