Amid public outcry, the Arts Commission terminated a $750,000 Central Subway art contract with controversial dog-killing artist Tom Otterness on Tuesday.
Otterness was selected by the Arts Commission earlier this year to install 59 bronze sculptures in the Moscone station of the proposed Central Subway project, but that was before The San Francisco Examiner reported Otterness’ past work in which he shot a dog for a film he claimed was a piece of art.
But Otterness will still receive $700,000 for the Mother with Children sculpture for the new San Francisco General Hospital despite outcry from San Francisco’s animal advocates to also reject that work. The City had already paid the artist $365,750 for the unfinished sculpture and would lose the money if it terminated that contract as well.
“I think a prudent decision … is to penalize him pretty severely for the loss of this major, major creative as well as financial opportunity, but not penalize the San Francisco Department of Health and its hospital and not cost The City an extraordinary amount of money to not receive the work that we contracted for,” said Arts Commission chair PJ Johnston.
The only “no” vote came from Arts Commissioner Jessica Silverman, artist and local gallery owner, who said after the meeting she preferred terminating both contracts.
“It’s not about forgiveness. I respect his license to make such a piece, but I can’t stand behind it,” said Silverman. “By approving such a thing you make it OK. And it’s not OK.”
Calls to terminate the contracts came after The Examiner reported in September how Otterness, at the age of 25 in 1977, bought a shelter dog, tied it to a fence and shot it on camera. He displayed the footage in an art exhibit in a constant loop and called it “Shot Dog Film.”
Animal advocates were angered by the decision not to cancel both contracts.
“I am disappointed they didn’t cancel both. But at least we got the one,” said Sally Stephens, chair of The City’s Animal Control and Welfare Commission. She said The City should have taken the financial hit. “It’s the cost of [the Arts Commission] not doing their homework,” Stephens said.
Otterness, a world-renowned sculptor famous for his whimsical, cartoonlike sculptures of people and animals, has issued numerous public apologies for the act when similar debates have erupted for other public art commissions he has received in other cities.