Back in 1977, Brooklyn-based artist Tom Otterness made a film of himself shooting and killing a dog he'd adopted from an animal shelter. It's art! But it's also evidence of an act of animal cruelty, which is why some San Francisco residents don't want Otterness to receive $750,000 in public funds to make statues for a local subway station.
Otterness was awarded the money by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors, which approved the contract commissioning him to create 59 bronze statues—not of dead dogs, but of the little cartoonish people he now makes. Somehow the judging panel didn't know about Otterness's dog-murder movie—even though it's listed right there on his danged Wikipedia page, and a simple Internet search of his name pulls up results that refer to it. Now they have a signed contract on their hands, and must to answer to a city full of hippie dog lovers too busy throwing soy bones to their pets to have any kids.
In the 34 years since releasing the dog movie, titled Shot Dog Film, Otterness has become a world-famous public artist. He's also apologized publicly for making the film—calling it "an indefensible act that I am deeply sorry for," "inexcusable," the product of "convoluted logic," and something he did out of "anger at [him]self and at the world." (If you were the type to kill dogs, you might be angry at yourself as well.) Yet he's also attributed his act to being a "young artist having a very rough time" (they didn't have alcohol, drugs, or therapists back then?) and has asserted that it was influenced by "the context of the times and the scene I was in," which sounds like an excuse—especially considering that his "scene" apparently didn't like the movie. At the time he shot Shot Dog Film, and the dog, he was 25 years old—certainly old enough to understand that killing animals is morally reprehensible.
While San Francisco animal rights supporters oppose Otterness' receipt of $750,000 to make his funny little people statues, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has put the project on hold pending an investigation. Maybe the investigators should begin their work by researching the issue, "why don't Internet search engines work on San Francisco government computers"? Assuming that San Fran government agencies have the same access to Yahoo and Google as the rest of us in America, it seems the city failed to do a thorough job of researching Otterness's background on behalf of the interests of its citizens—which, whether you agree with them or not, deserve the right to weigh in on how their money's being used.
If you were God, or the city of San Francisco, would you forgive Otterness? On one hand, what he did to that poor dog was deplorable and sadistic, and he was never prosecuted for it. On the other, he has expressed remorse, never made a Shot Dog Film II, and doesn't defend his act now. Should he be regarded as "the artist who killed a dog once," or "an artist who brings happiness to people through his quirky creations"? Feel free to debate this matter in the comments, aka "your free Ethics 101 class recitation." (President Obama would probably give him a second chance, if it makes any difference.)
[San Francisco Chronicle. Image via Getty]