Art For Art's Sake

Nothing like a cheesy art scandal to liven up the end of the week. The San Francisco Art Commission awarded NYC artist Tom Otterness a $750,000 contract to install some art in the new Central Subway. Turns out that Otterness has a scandalous past. Back in his young and foolish days in the Seventies, Otterness adopted a dog from an animal shelter and, uh, shot it. Dead. With a movie camera rolling. This upset some people back in the day, even as it gave Otterness his initial burst of noteriety. He feels bad about it now, though:

Tom Otterness, a Brooklyn-based artist, has created public art all over Europe, Asia, Canada and the United States, with an emphasis on New York City.

But he garnered notoriety in 1977 when he adopted a black-and-white dog from an animal shelter and shot it to death with the camera rolling. The footage ended up in his avant-garde movie "Shot Dog Film."

Otterness has since apologized, telling the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 2008, "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. 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.

Otterness has produced a lot of public art, most of it of a whimsical nature. Knowing that the guy shot a dog does tend to color your reaction, regardless of the charm his work might carry.

Now, talk to a lot of social conservatives who have been at the front lines of the "Piss Christ"-style controversies of the last few decades, and I'll bet most of them will agree that the majority of modern artists are driven by "profound emotional turmoil and despair." For his part, SF mayor Ed Lee seems to agree. The project has been put on hold.

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