Sculptor Tom Otterness characterizes his works as cartoonish and whimsical. But there was nothing light-hearted or fun about a “creation” of his dating to 1977.
That year Otterness, aged 25, produced a video whose shocking title, Shot Dog Film, tells as much as any dog lover needs to know about the deranged act he committed in the name of art. For those intent on hearing the gruesome details, Otterness “rescued” a dog from an animal shelter, chained the pooch to a fence, and shot and killed him in cold blood, recording the incident on tape for posterity.
That video “evidence” has now surfaced, and Otterness’s career may be in jeopardy. The revelation of his despicable actions has already resulted in the decision by a San Francisco art gallery to suspend a planned installation of his work. Otterness stands to lose out on a $750,000 commission.
Similar controversies have erupted in other cities, but San Francisco leaders, who just learned about the atrocity, are particularly livid. The city’s Arts Commission president, P.J. Johnston, is quoted by station KGO-TV as saying:
We learned of this last night. I got a call from Mayor [Edwin] Lee who was extremely upset this afternoon when he heard of this news and I’ve been directed … to place a halt on any further work on this particular art installation.
Animal rights activists Anita Carswell is also incensed by reports of this deplorable act. She asks rhetorically whether anyone can excuse what Otterness did as just a “youthful indiscretion.” Personally, I limit youthful indiscretions to stealing model airplane kits from the local five-and-ten and the like. Putting a bullet in a live animal’s brain crosses the line, even if it is meant as an “act of artistic expression.”
Otterness himself now claims to see the error of his ways, calling his actions “really inexcusable.” Even if one accepts that he is sincere and not just trying to salvage his livelihood, is his apology enough?
One dog owner interviewed by KGO-TV answers the question this way:
Maybe because I’m a dog lover and perhaps everybody deserves another chance, but to do this by design it’s not something I can ever identify with or accept.
Even that reaction is a little too far in the direction of conciliation for my tastes.
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