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Life Underground 2004

by Tom Otterness, 1952

Travelers passing through the 14th and 8th Ave subway station in Chelsea have the pleasure of seeing more than one hundred whimsical bronze sculptures that are part of Tom Otterness’ Life Underground series. The charming figures, which took a span of 10 years to complete, were commissioned for the MTA’s Arts for Transit project. They represent a humorous caricature of life in New York, with a dark twist through scenes of corruption and mischief.

The cutesy, voluminous figures include cartoonish people with moneybags for heads and an alligator in a business suit crawling out of a manhole, which hold a subliminal political message about class struggle. Regardless of its symbolism and social critique, the series’ scattered pieces have provided continuous surprise and delight to viewers.

The piece’s almost universal approval ironically contrasts the artist’s sinister past and recent infamy. Otterness has received public backlash ever since knowledge of his 1977 work, Shot Dog Film, resurfaced. For this early work, he adopted a dog and recorded himself tying it to a tree and shooting it to death. This was a PR nightmare for the artist who had created a career around his public art. The controversy has jeopardized several large project commissions for Otterness but has not dimmed his success.


1977 Dog Shot Film
2004 Life Underground completed

Reference Links

article Sassy Sculpture Casts Whimsical Cityscape in Bronze
article Cute sculptures disguise artist's cruel past
article The Dog-Killing Woes of Tom Otterness
link Tom Otterness
internal Tom Otterness - Wiki