A family of bronze lions won't be showing up at a downtown library anytime soon. The Battery Park City Authority has decided not to accept the anonymous donation of eight Tom Otterness statues to the Battery Park branch of the New York Public Library.
The statues depict two adult lions and six lion cubs in the artist’s distinctive, cartoony style. Even if they don’t know it, most New Yorkers have seen Otterness’ sculptures -- combining cute bronze characters with vaguely anti-capitalist messages -- in prominent public places including the 14th Street A-C-E subway platform and the Roosevelt Island promenade.
However, the artist has come under fire in recent years over a 1977 video-art piece titled “Shot Dog Film” in which he shot and killed a dog on film. Otterness has since publicly apologized for the film several times, calling the piece “indefensible.”
Not everybody has accepted the apology. In May, Community Board 1 approved the statue’s donation, valued at $750,000, by a vote of 28 to 7, upsetting local animal rights activists. Dog-lovers in the community protested the decision and some even brought their pooches to the Community Board meeting to make a statement.
Ultimately, the decision not to adopt the sculptures belonged to the Battery Park City Authority. If the animal-rights issues influenced their decision, they didn’t let on.
In a letter to Community Board 1, Authority president Gayle Horwitz wrote “Acceptance of gifts by governmental entities is a very sensitive issue. The Public Authorities Law demands transparency. Acceptance of a gift whereby the Authority would neither know with whom it was dealing nor have any control over the artist or the artwork is inconsistent with these transparency objectives.”
Anne Fenton, spokesperson for the Authority, affirmed that the doggy snuff film was completely beside the point.
“It's not a matter of anyone at the Battery Park City Authority liking the sculpture or not liking the sculpture," said Fenton. "It's about following the law."
Tom Otterness could not be reached for comment at press time.
Otterness already has a popular sculptures series permanently on display in Battery Park, titled “The Real World.”