by Adam Harrington, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The cartoonlike bronze sculptures that adorn the 14th Street-Eighth Avenue subway station were joined by a rogue addition by a different creator Friday morning, alluding to an infamous scandal surrounding the original artist.
An assortment of whimsical figurines can be found in the Eighth Avenue L Train terminal and the 14th Street A, C and E Train stop – all part of artist Tom Otterness’ “Life Underground” exhibition.
The scenes in the exhibition show tiny workmen shoveling up giant piles of coins, an alligator with human hands poking its head out of a sewer and dragging a tiny person away, and an assortment of undersized workmen handling a life-size I-beam, among other depictions.
But the rogue addition by Andrew Tider and Lisa Barnstone, which appeared on the stairs leading down to the L Train terminal on Friday morning, showed an Otterness-style figurine with a smiley face pointing a gun at a dog.
The scene references an infamous event from Otterness’ own life. As described in multiple accounts, in 1977, Otterness — then 25 – tied a dog he had brought back from a shelter to a fence and shot and killed the animal on video. The footage was displayed on an infinite-loop art exhibition film titled “Shot Dog Film.”
Otterness issued an apology for “Shot Dog Film” in 2007, when the controversy resurfaced as the artist received a commission for a sculpture in DUMBO.
“Thirty years ago when I was 25 years old, I made a film in which I shot a dog. It was an indefensible act that I am deeply sorry for,” read the apology, as published by the Brooklyn Eagle at the time. “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.”
But the infamy has continued to surround Otterness in the years since, and made headlines once again on Friday as the rogue sculpture greeted throngs of commuters.
In an e-mail to CBS New York, Tider described his intentions in creating the piece.
“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,” Tider wrote. “I wanted to do something to make it feel positive for me once again.”
He said his goal was to take the discussion to deeper issues beyond the controversy around Otterness and “Shot Dog Film.”
“I realized that it could potentially spark conversation and debate, and I hoped to steer the discourse beyond the surface level talk about Otterness shooting the dog,” Tider wrote. “In my ideal scenario, the conversation might start there, but then give way to a deeper discussion about the decisions we make and the roles we all play in society.”
Tider wrote that the Otterness’ Life Underground sculptures in the subway station have a running theme of “corruption and unchecked capitalism,” and “the sculptures I added place Otterness (the shooter figure) within the system that he (as the artist) is wagging his finger at.”
“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?” Tider wrote.
As to the components of the sculpture, the smiling figurine with the rifle pointed at the dog is intended to speculate on Otterness’ own thoughts, Tider wrote.
“The shooter is smiling, but I wondered about Otterness’s mindset when he was creating the ‘Shot Dog’ video,” he wrote. “Was he conflicted at the time?”
And in addition to the smiling figurine poised to shoot the dog, the sculpture also includes a third smaller statue that appears to be snapping a photograph of the scene.
“The 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,” he wrote.
Tider wrote that he has never spoken personally to Otterness, and prefers to reserve final judgment about anyone’s actions until hearing about them firsthand. But he did question Otterness’ apology for “Shot Dog Film.”
“As far as I’m able to tell, the one apology he made in print is the only real ‘remorse’ he has shown in a public way,” Tider wrote.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority told Animal New York that the sculpture was removed and taken into storage.
An e-mail to Otterness’ studio was not returned Friday evening.
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