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New York, New York

Life Underground Sculptures

Artist's cute bronze subway sculptures belie his violent artistic past 

Each day, thousands of subway riders at 14th Street/8th Avenue walk hurriedly by the tiny bronze figures that adorn the station, to continue their day. But with their quickening footsteps, they miss out on one of the true gems of public art in the entire city, Life Underground. But the playful statues belie the artist’s past as a controversial violent performance artist.

Designed by artist Tom Otterness, the miniature cartoon-like statues depict the details of life and history in hectic New York City. In the most notable, a sewer alligator chomps on the behind of a money-sign faced miniature while another well-dressed man, based loosely on Boss Tweed looks on.

Cute and playful with political undertones, each of the more than 100 bronze statues represents the tiny details, history, and myths of New York City, a place so chaotic many of its residents miss out on the little things. Constructed as part of a multi-million dollar subway renovation project in 2001, the clever bronze works have been widely overshadowed by Tom Otterness’ past work, a film entitled “Shot Dog Film,” where Otterness shot and killed a dog.

Done in 1977, when Otterness was only 25 he has publicaly apologized for the violent, looped film, saying “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.” Despite the years and the apology some have called for Otterness’ funding to be pulled.

Know Before You Go

Take any A, C or E train to the 14th St station. Also the L train to the 8th Avenue station and follow signs to the A, C, E platform.

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