Tom Otterness on the Value of Public Art

Tom Otterness is an American sculptor whose permanent installation, "Life Underground," is located in the 14th St/8th Avenue subway station in New York City. His work, usually cartoonish and cheerful but with a dark side, can be found in parks and public squares throughout the world. Otterness works out of a 20,000 square-foot studio in Brooklyn, New York.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Why is public art important?

Tom Otterness: Oh, I think it’s a form that replaces what we used to have as a town square as an instigator of conversation between people that are strangers in public. And it can lead them to talk about its content or about subjects that they don’t normally address or talk at all just from the provocation of the work. I often think that it’s worthwhile just to have a public artwork that neutralizes a large body of money, you know, and makes these finances and puts it to no purpose, puts it to no good end or to know it has no results other than changing people’s consciousness. That by itself is worthwhile, you know. It’s kind that point business of it. So there’s something in public that’s not selling, you want anything, not giving your real message… That’s an important service. Question: What is your favorite installation piece? Otterness: I think, the… the subway project is probably my favorite. I liked it especially that it had a sort of a slice of… There’s a class of people that uses the subway, and above ground, it’s a different, you know, the upper class, the highest class in the city won’t go down there, you know. So, you’re really talking to a certain audience [Laughs] in that subway. I think that’s my favorite. I put something like five times more work than they paid me for there. I kept putting more and more work in… My wife finally stop me from putting our whole life savings and I just got carried, you know, the situation itself was ideal for me. So, I think that’s the work that I went in.


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