Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Artist's Apology

"It was an indefensible act that I am deeply sorry for. Many of us have experienced profound emotional turmoil and despair. Few have made the mistake I made. I hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me -- Tom Otterness.”

New York is the home of a lot of struggling artists and often it is difficult to make a name for yourself in a city with so much talent. That's NOT Tom Otterness' problem.

My most standards Wichita-native Otterness has been amply rewarded for his works. He has works in parks, plazas, subway stations, libraries, courthouses and museums in New York. In Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City and even in the subways station.

In 2005, "Tom Otterness on Broadway", his largest exhibition to date, featured 25 different works installed between Columbus Circle and 168th Street in Washington Heights.And that's only New York. He has been commissioned to create works in Los Angeles, Portland Oregon, Connell, Washington, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sacramento, California, Omaha, Nebraska, Cleveland, Ohio and many other cities. In Europe, Otterness' works have also found homes; in the Netherlands in Germany, Paris, Valencia and Venice.

Yet when it was announced that Otterness had been commissioned by an unknown donor to sculpt bronze lions and cubs as a gift to be installed outside the Battery Park City branch of the New York Public Library, many people decided that enough was enough. The new sculptures are being offered free of charge to the library by an anonymous donor who spent $750,000 to commission the works.

Critics of the decision charge that Otterness is a nothing more and nothing less than a monster.

Back in 1977, when he was 25, artist Tom Otterness produced “Shot Dog Film,” in which he chained and killed a small, black-and-white dog he adopted from a shelter for that purpose. The dog’s slow death is shown repeatedly in the movie.
Otterness' apology DOGColleen O’Brien, a PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, spokeswoman, told New York’s Metro:
“Any man who would adopt a dog and then film himself shooting the animal needs a good psychiatrist — not another art show.”

Since the making of the film, Otterness has apologized repeatedly but, for some people, certain things are not so easily forgiven and, more importantly, people who commit such acts, supposedly in the name of Art, should not be rewarded with high profile commissions. They ask, what kind of message does this send about our values as a society?

Battery Park City's Broadsheet Daily reports that Otterness has estimated maintenance costs at around $2,000-3,000 per year, which, thus, makes this much more of a public issue.

One New Yorker puts it this way.
 "His work will always be tainted by the horrendous act of its maker," said Kathleen Daly-Crum, a Battery Park City resident and dog owner who called the movie "sheer depravity…It was done with such premeditation … it took my breath away."
Of course, the controversy opens up all sorts of questions about artist freedoms as well. Isn't this a form of censorship? Can a person never be forgiven? After all, Otterness has apologized for his crime and it did happen many years ago. For many, the passage of time doesn't change the fact that what he did was reprehensible and inexcusable.
One commenter, Laura R., writes.

I am completely disturbed about how this person’s new project will be funded. Yes, the past is the past, and all should be forgiven, but at the age of 25, making a documentary about a helpless dog dying slowly and shamelessly on video doesn’t make you completely sane. No, you were not young, you were foolish and crazy. This is not a “different” form of art. It’s called murder and animal endangerment. I do not support this project, and I’ll most likely spit on these sculptures as I walk by.
Others, like KC, are less adamant.
While the act is unforgivable, one can still forgive the person, especially when they are truly sickened by what they did and want forgiveness. This was 30 years ago and you all act like he did this yesterday, or over and over again. I cannot begin to know what was in his mind to do such a thing. And yes he had to have known better. Which he said he did and has been sorry for it ever since.

Personally I can't make up my mind about it. What do you think? I like to hear your opinions on this controversy.

Please tweet this and repost this with links as you are able in order that more people can hear and contribute their opinions.
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  1. He only "apologized" when he was busted in the late 90's early 2000's and word began to spread on the web. Its so easy just to say the same thing in word and he does use this text over and over- where is the act though? He does not serve time for this (why didn't he?) he has never to anyone's knowledge given anything to help animals. He is wealthy- where are the "Otterness Wing"s of animal hospitals or a huge donation to shelters? His fans can collect him and support him privately but to pretend he represents the public at the Library was an insult and since NO choices for other artists were even discussed how is this harming his free speech? It's really harming dog rescuers and owners free speech by removing the option to choose and by pretending this was some free thing but the public would be expected to pay for upkeep of his art while he walked away with over 700k. Oh and BTW the Library has denied this art was being donated to them so what exactly is going on? Annon "donor" of 750k, mighty big tax break that would be, going to the Library- but the Library says it's NOT being donated to them in their press release, old art from a failed 2008 project Otterness couldn't get going, a community board trying to force this on the community- the whole thing sounds suspicious. I would love to know where this money was coming from and who it was going to go to after this old art was unloaded. It's really more than an apology issue here, its Otterness greed and ability to con money from various sources- and maybe his scammy plan would have flown once again under the radar if he himself wasn't basically a depraved dog killer.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment. If you don't mind, I'd like to hold off on my opinions until I have more responses.

  3. Society drives me a little nuts. A puppy suffering until death is an abhorrent act which causes public outrage, yet animals raised in "factory farms" who suffer until death so people can eat steaks, bacon, chicken, and turkey get no such consideration. And why? Because puppies are cute? Because dogs are man's best friend? The hypocrisy of going ape-shit over a dog suffering for art when animals suffering for food isn't even a blip on the radar doesn't make sense to me.

    Of course, as somebody who places equal value on all life, I find his actions reprehensible. No, I don't forgive him. No, I don't think he should continue to be a celebrated artist when his legacy is awash with the deliberate blood and suffering for an innocent animal. He was an ADULT with full knowledge of what he was doing. If animal death and cruelty are so appealing to this sick man, let him work at a frickin' slaughterhouse... or even a McDonald's... but don't let him exhibit in public spaces. If some private collector wants to have his crap, then that's their right. But don't celebrate him as an artist and bolster his name by allowing him to have works displayed in a public library.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Dave. Recently I read (well, I skimmed it actually) about an ethical examination of making a cow that was "genetically-designed" to feel no pain. The idea was weird that it made a shiver run up my spine and I turned to the next thing.

  5. Whenever I hear about people being so united and "sickened" by things like this, it makes me very angry. Some douche shot a dog 30 years ago in a messed up "art" piece, and they'll never let him live it down. Yet WHERE ARE THESE PEOPLE an...d all of their passion for right and wrong when WE NEED THEM? How many despicable acts of wrongdoing happen in our society daily that deserve protest, yet they sit on the backburner. How many politicians and corporations and advertisers, etc have done so much worse to warp our minds and fuck with our ability to love and be free---- YET YOU ARE GOING TO NEVER LET AN ARTIST LIVE DOWN SHOOTING A DOG 30 YEARS AGO. What about child prostitution? What about female/male circumcision? What about what is happening to our food industry? What about corporations that buy everything and wash cities clean of real culture, then itemize what used to be there into some sort of tangible product? What about _____________ fill in the blank?

    I think he is earning a lot of money, and I wish that other artists I know (and maybe mee :D) could make money like that to create work that is actually doing something for society and provoking thought. These people are like fake-bleeding...-hearts or something. The dog obsessers I mean. How *easy* to defend that cause. God, I just really wish they would take that energy and venom and put it into something worthwhile!

  6. I'll re-write what I wrote on the FaceBook. I knew a couple who were all gooey about orphaned animals, cats and dogs, but mostly cats. They had four of them already. (Four cats means more angry looks, and suppressed bitchiness than a Teen Miss contest) Anyway, you could barely walk down a street with them because they would stop at every stray. She carried cat food in her purse. Anyway, one evening we were walking in the center of town when a kid came up to us and tried to sell us a flower or some chewing gum. (They do that here.) and the husband was shouting at the child and even threatened to back-hand him. Later when I mentioned it (like for the four time) he sighed and said, "You'll never let me forget that, will you?"
    I suppose I won't.
    Thanks for the comment, Anon. I appreciate hearing what you thought about this story.

  7. Annon a lot of people are involved in many other things and it's hard to make a change as you can see since this man still gets paid doesn't mean you don't try. Just because the world is evil doesn't mean people aren't involved trying to help change that, just because it isn't all solved right now doesn't mean people aren't fighting hard for good things- the issue here was Otterness so that is what was discussed, can't discuss every single other issue in these comment forms. How would you even know what else people are involved with? You don't know.

  8. Last month I wrote about how the Minnesota state government was actually trying to punish people who were trying to make changes by just getting the word out.

    I don't consider myself a bleeding heart and I accept that there's a lot of that kind of false sympathy- posing is what they called it. Sometimes the problems seem overwhelming but I am not sure if we all want to live in a world where artists think that the murder of any innocent is a creative act. Is that old-fashioned or backward?

  9. Murdering a trusting little soul like his adopted dog - It's not art its a cheap shot by a cheap person to force attention on themselves. It's backward and ignorant.

  10. Most of my time is now spent working on animal rights. After I saw 'Meet Your Meat', something just clicked. The revelation that animals are intelligent, emotional beings who value their lives as much as we do ours. I am vegan, by the way. Even before my transformation, I always loved animals. Otterness' apologies completely ring hollow. This article was written about a month before his latest round: Does he sound contrite to you? He blames what he did on 'anguish and emotional turmoil at 25.' Many people are in trauma during their 20's. Maybe you were. Could you ever have done a thing like this? I doubt it. As far as I'm concerned, only a sociopath could. In a way, he's the pioneer of all the sadistic animal abuse videos that are now on youtube showing some miscreant torturing a puppy or kitten in his basement. What's the difference?

  11. One question comes to mind from your post. Why wasn't this man arrested for what he did? (Never mind that society has rewarded him with a pretty lucrative career.)

    With that article you cited, it sounds like Otterness badmouthing captialism is- if you will forgive the pun, biting the hand that feeds him.

    "The man who shot his dog for art currently makes an average of seven figures for large private commissions in someone's backyard."

    On the other hand, there is a nice element of karmic satisfaction to know that right now some rich man's Great Dane is peeing all over Otterness' sculpture. That's a small comfort perhaps.


Always great to hear from visitors to Nomadic View. What's on your mind?


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