Otterness: Lousy Artist, Lousy Person?

The art world has masticated in contemplation over sculptor Tom Otterness just as the dog he assassinated in the name of artistic expression over 20 years ago might have chomped on a tasty bone. The chance to jump on the Otterness Hate Wagon has come (literally) to DUMBO where the artist’s piece Large Covered Wagon is now on display. (If you get off at the 14th Street stop of the A,C,E you’ve already had a chance to fall in love/hate with his whimsical statues.)

As for the dog incident (for which the artist has apologized many times over the last two decades), NYC journalism legend Gary Indiana put it best in New York Magazine writing about the opening of the East Village USA exhibit:

But I’m repulsed by this show’s inclusion of Tom Otterness, a sculptor of limitless nonentity despite his demonstrated skill at conning public-art commissions and taste-impaired collectors into making him rich. Mr. Otterness, once upon a time, adopted a dog and then shot it to death for the fun of recording his infantile, sadistic depravity on film. I’d like the New Museum’s visitors to keep that in mind while looking at this creep’s work. Mr. Otterness isn’t one of those special exceptions deserving the adage “Lousy person, terrific artist.” Lousy both.

For an overview of Otterness’ work, the NY Times has a video profile and James Skalm provides this walk through on YouTube:

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  • peter

    What a pathetic excuse for an artist. Stop apologizing and donate some time and money to supporting the prevention of animal cruelty.

  • James

    I am shocked and disgusted at the fact that this artist killed a dog for what he says was artistic expression. Shame! I had previously admired his work, but I can no longer even look at it without thinking about his sadistic, cruel and inhumane act. He should have been arrested – there are laws about things like that. Perhaps Mr. Otterness can donate some of the big bucks he has earned (some at the taxpayer’s expense) to give to the ASPCA or the Humane Society.

    Saying that he young, angry and he “wouldn’t do it again” is not enough. He was 25 years old not 11. What has he done, specifically, to atone for this wanton act of cruelty!

    Shame! Shame! Shame!

  • Snoopy

    I’ve actually met Otterness on a few occasions and have always found him to be detached, distracted and self-involved. The last time I met him, ironically (per this piece), he was at Hillside Dog Park with his then-new puppy, a blue merle miniature Australian Shepherd named Shmoo. Like many people, I’ve found many of his public sculptures delightful and his monument for 9-11, called “Crying Giant,” at once empathetic and stoic.

    Finding out that he committed this crime, albeit a quarter of a century ago, does diminish him in my eyes and will forever require me to see well beyond the veneer of the soft curves in his whimsical bronze sculptures. I can’t believe something like that ever leaves one’s heart.

    How fitting that the piece he will be installing in Dumbo is being sponsored by none other than the hateful misanthropic Walentas family.

  • MadeInBrooklyn

    What a disappointment. I love Tom’s work; it lends an otherworldly charm to Battery Park City Park, and brightens up the otherwise gloomy 14th Street Station. Oh well, it’s yet another (sad) case of having to separate the artist from the art (a la Celine, Picasso, Pound, London, and so on…).

  • Christine

    ..I’m fairly certain I don’t know any 11 year olds who would shoot a dog to death either…

  • al falfa

    All the talent in the world matters ZILCH if the ‘person’ who possesses it is a psychopathic dog-murdering azzwipe. THAT’S how I’ll ALWAYS see this chump regardless of his shitty sculptures.

  • Frances

    What a loathsome piece of shit! He should be watched very carefully because he may decide to abuse a child or do something equally abhorrent. It’s obviously something he’s fully capable of.

  • T.K. Small

    This message thread has been very informative and allows me to add two additional commentaries. The sculpture that is down in DUMBO was mentioned at the last community board meeting. I believe it was as part of a report from the Parks committee, and it is definitely my recollection that there was significant praise. If there was a functioning website for community Board 2 perhaps the minutes of the meeting would be available for the public to view and provide comments like the ones above. If what people has reported about the dog is true, that is very very disturbing!

    Secondly, Otterness has two pieces down in the MetroTech Park. One is a cowa alligator in emerging from a manhole cover and the other one is a somewhat petite seeing-eye dog. Both of these cultures I think our are very hazardous people with visual impairments, children or anyone who might be simply distracted. It would be easy to trip over either of these sculptures and get very injured.

    T.K. Small

  • Snoopy

    As if what Otterness did in 1977 isn’t bad enough, then there’s this:

    I agree with gallerist Edward Winkleman: Guillermo Vargas Habacuc should be prosecuted. And, what’s more, he should be shunned by the art world.

    I realize the Otterness incident is currently of note because he lives and works in Brooklyn and has installed pieces all over NYC and now in Dumbo, but the above link, which has left me utterly stunned and sickened, relates.

    This “artist” is slated to be included in the The Bienal Centroamericana Honduras 2008. There is a petition one can sign to protest his inclusion:

    To witness suffering and do nothing is deplorable, but to witness suffering and to exacerbate it and make it spectacle, is the absolute height of cruelty.

    And to “Mrs. Fink” (above) who asks if Otterness’s act makes his art less lovable: Yes. I will forever see in his work the reflection of his dark heart.

  • lifer

    A link on a Gothamist thread says the Costa Rican thing just might be a hoax, but they arent positive..

  • Topper

    Sucker born every minute. Of course if Otterness shot a man, we wouldn’t be having this thread. We’d be enjoying his art.

  • Snoopy

    Yes, I also read that the Costa Rican thing might have been a hoax. However, the video I’ve seen of an obviously sullen and sickly dog belies the claim. It was said to be a hoax by the gallery only after an eruption of outrage. The gallery claimed that the dog was fed food and water and escaped capture, and a local humane agency’s investigation was inconclusive. Meanwhile, the “artist’s” statement — “The dog would have died anyway” — is more revealing, and convincing.

  • Qfwfq

    Well, artist Chris Burden had himself shot. Not quite the same. Of course, in the age of Jackass, Damien Hirst, Faces Of Death, and the Bodies exhibit – which allegedly used the bodies of Chinese political prisoners – is a puppy snuff film really that much of a stretch?

  • ts

    I’m just glad he didn’t snuff out a parakeet.

  • samantha t

    There are people who shoot defenseless beings and people who don’t. Period.

  • HappyLOLDay

    He is trash, but what makes it even worse is the public funds given to him that could have gone to shelters or ANY other service that helps this area. People collecting his art, it’s their business the kind of scum they love, it’s like criminals getting love letters in jail, there are some twisted people out there. It’s the taking of public money to support this kind of person that is terrible. So there are no other sculptors out there that can adorn our city? This kind of person is chosen? And what of WSU? $450,000 plus $150,000 in “shipping” for a sculpture- no other people in KS that can do this? No other ways to spend that much money in student fees? Sick folks can collect what and who they want, but to pretty much take the money from the public to support this kind of person is disgusting. He may be “apologizing” for something he did in 77 but he shows it almost a decade later- he is so filled with pride for his work? He didn’t seem to be “suffering” in the mid 80’s according to his own website. Must have just been angry nobody was giving him the attention he craved. There HAVE to be other people out there who can sculpt who didn’t find it fun to kill a dog and show off about it.

  • HappyLOLDay

    STOP Tom Otterness in Logan Square
    Read this:

    Or click here