Tom Otterness’s whimsical art is scattered across New York City, notably in a Battery Park City playground where cast-bronze animals and giant coins delight the children while making a political statement. But Otterness’s terrible act of cruelty as a young man always follows him. I have debated whether a person’s character and misdeeds should be part of judging his art. Think of Miles Davis and Ike Turner (wife beaters). I argue that their music should be judged on its own merit rather than dismissed because of the artists’ crimes.
Pablo Picasso was notoriously cruel, once extinguishing a cigarette on his mistress’s face. Yet I judge his art on its own merit. But Otterness’s once adopted a dog and shot it to death and created a film of his indefensible act. That is hard for me to get past and I can never see his art without my heart going out to that dog.
Viewing Otterness’s art reminds me that good and bad, creativity and cruelty often lives in the same human being. He is a great artist and a part of the fabric of this city, a city which itself is at once good and bad, cruel and rewarding.