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Public Art or Public Shame?

You have to wonder about an entity that handles millions of dollars a year in commissions and grants awarded to creative, groundbreaking cultural endeavors and yet fails to recognize the glaringly appalling history of a highly commissioned artist.  

In June, The San Francisco Arts Commission awarded a $750,000.00 contract to Brooklyn based sculptor Tom Otterness to create fifty nine bronze sculptures for the Moscone station of the proposed central subway. Otterness had previously been awarded $700,000.00 to create a “Mother with Children” sculpture for the new opening of the San Francisco General Hospital. The fact that Otterness shot and killed a dog on tape as an “art piece” seems to have been overlooked by the prestigeous commission.  

In 1977, Otterness purchased a shelter dog, tied it to a fence and then shot it dead on film. He called it art. I call it murder. Serial killers abuse animals in similar fashion, but they don’t call it art.  Is this who we want creating public art? Otterness laments that he has spent the past thirty four years “living with his mistake” and “trying to bring joy to the world through his public art”. I don’t care if he were handing out thousand dollar bills on Fisherman’s Wharf, he is an abhorent disgrace to the art world for that one reckless act.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Le has called for a freeze on the city’s contracts with Otterness after the release of a news article on Friday which publicized Otterness’s past and illuminated the negligence of the San Francisco Arts Commission to investigate who they award hefty contracts to. Otterness has already received $365,000.00 towards the two pending commissions for the city. 

What Otterness calls a “mistake” is, in my opinion, unforgivable. He should not only be denied commissions to do public art in ANY city, he should be denied access to the art world period. Shooting an animal is not art no matter you try to define or defend itl  Like Michael Vicks, Otterness should be forced to make retribution for his vile act.  And like Michael Vicks, I will find it impossible to forgive him. As for the San Francisco Arts Commisssion, this should serve as a humiliating lesson to conduct thorough research on artists before lavishing them with three quarters of a million dollars in grant money for public art.

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