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Tom Otterness, design for the lions that were slated to stand in front of the Battery Park City library. Photo by DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro
Tom Otterness, design for the lions that were slated to stand in front of the Battery Park City library. Photo by DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

OTTERNESS LIONS REJECTED FOR BATTERY PARK

July 8, 2011

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The Battery Park City Authority has rejected a donation of a group of seven lion sculptures by public artist Tom Otterness that were to be installed at the entryway of the new library at the north end of the celebrated development on the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan. In April, the local community board approved two of the artists’ five-foot-tall bronze lions and their cub in a vote of 28-7 (the design now includes a group of cubs playing at their parents’ feet). According to the Tribeca Trib, the funding of the project -- a total of $750,000, underwritten by one of Otterness’ collectors, who seeks to remain anonymous -- is somehow a violation of New York’s public authorities law.

An impartial observer can’t help thinking, however, that a 35-year-old controversy that has long plagued the artist -- protests against his 1977 short film Shot Dog, in which he killed a dog on camera -- had something to do with the vote. Unsurprisingly it was the New York Post that fed the hysteria, with articles headlined “Buy This Sculpture or I’ll Kill a Dog.” (The Post is, of course, one of the U.S. ambassadors of Rupert Murdoch’s global tabloid culture that is currently coming under such fire in England.)

Over the years, Otterness has repeatedly apologized for his action, which appears to have been a youthful aberration rather than a sign of irredeemable evil. He told the Battery Park City Committee in April that the dog incident was “indefensible” and “all I can do is apologize for it and express my regret. And I think my work over the last 30 years has done something to counterbalance that.” But dog lovers can be unforgiving.

Otterness is not giving up yet. “We plan to work with the BPCA to resolve any procedural concerns they have,” he told Artnet News in an email.

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