Born 1952; Wichita, Kansas. Art critic Ken Johnson once mused, Otterness may well be “the world’s best public sculptor.” With a focus on public art, American sculptor Tom Otterness has been populating public spaces with his whimsical, satirical animal sculptures since the 1970s. His work adorns many a park, plaza, subway station, library, courthouse, museum, and hospital, including very recently the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. In the U.S. alone, Otterness has completed at least three dozen public commissions, including Life Underground (2004), his celebrated multi-figural bronze sculpture installation for the New York Metropolitan Transporation Agency. His international commissions include public plazas in Münster, Germany (1993), Toronto, Canada (2007), and Seoul, South Korea (2010), and a large public park in Scheveningen, the Netherlands (2004).
Otterness employs the “lost wax” process to cast his bronze figures, which range from monumental to palm-sized. Disarmingly playful and cartoonish, his work is underpinned by references to art history, popular culture, and various political and social themes. Occasionally, Otterness brings fraught topics into the public sphere, subtly exploring issues surrounding class, race and gender in his works. Often an emphasis is placed upon the concept of the struggle of a little man up against the capitalist machine in a difficult and strange city. About his sculptures, the artist says, “I try to make work that speaks a common language that people understand, a visual language that doesn’t intimidate them.”
Works by Otterness are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Eli Broad Family Foundation, the Brooklyn Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Carnegie Museum, the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, among others. Ottterness was elected a member of the National Academy in 1994. Otterness lives and works in New York.