Tom Otterness (born 1952) is an American sculptor whose works adorn parks, plazas, subway stations, libraries, courthouses and museums in New York—most notably in Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City and in the 14th Street/8th Avenue subway station—and other cities around the world. He contributed a balloon (a giant upside-down Humpty Dumpty) to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
His style is often described as cartoonish and cheerful, but also political. His sculptures allude to sex, class, money and race. These sculptures depict, among other things, huge pennies, pudgy characters in business suits with moneybag heads, helmeted workers holding giant tools, and an alligator crawling out from under a sewer cover. His aesthetic can be seen as a riff on capitalist realism
Known primarily as a public artist, Otterness has exhibited in exhibitions in locations across the United States and internationally, including New York City, Indianapolis, Beverly Hills, the Hague, Munich, Paris, Valencia and Venice. His studio is located in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Otterness studied at the Art Students League of New York in 1970 and at the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1973. He was an active member of the artists' group Colab (Collaborative Projects) from its inception in 1977.
Otterness began his career as a public sculptor during this period with Colab. He sold small, plaster figures for $4.99 at Artists Space in New York for the 1979 holiday season. His inspiration was the plaster replicas of Jesus and Elvis and Santería sculptures in botanica shops in the Bronx. "I thought 'Oh, this is public art…This is something that everyone can afford and take home.'" The next year he made a series of small plaster "proto monuments" for Colab's 1980 Times Square show, which he helped organize. This show featured inexpensive works by some 150 artists, including then unknowns Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. He began showing with New York's Brooke Alexander Gallery soon after. Recently, there has been some controversy over a film he made in 1977 and the San Francisco Arts commission terminated one of two contracts they had with the artist. 
In 1987, Otterness exhibited his work The Tables at the Museum of Modern Art "Projects" show. White-collar workers, blue-collar workers, cops, radicals, captains of industry were displayed on four bronze picnic tables in the MoMA sculpture garden. The show travelled to the IVAM Centre Julio Gonzalez in Valencia; Portikus/Senckenbergmuseum in Frankfurt am Main; and Haags Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.
In 2005, "Tom Otterness on Broadway", his largest exhibition to date, featured 25 different works installed between Columbus Circle and 168th Street in Washington Heights. The project was sponsored by the City of New York Parks and Recreation Department, the Broadway Mall Association, and Marlborough Gallery, and traveled to three other cities—Indianapolis, Beverly Hills, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Grand Rapids exhibition featured more than 40 works across two miles of the city's downtown area and at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
One of Otterness's earliest public art works, The New World, was commissioned in 1987 by the General Services Administration for the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, part of the Los Angeles Federal Center. The work was installed in 1991. After this piece, Otterness was commissioned to do others for the General Services Administration, including federal courthouses in Portland, Oregon (Law of Nature, 1997); Sacramento, California (Gold Rush, 1999); and Minneapolis, Minnesota (Rock Man, 1999).
Many of Otterness's public works can be found in New York City. The Real World, located in Battery Park City was commissioned in 1986 and installed in 1992; this sculpture ensemble is meant to represent the world outside the playground, "a broad social allegory on art and life, where the games of power and control are played out in miniature by Otterness's adorable and cunning characters…an imaginative park with things to touch and stories to invent."
Otterness is perhaps best known to New Yorkers for his 2002 Life Underground installation, which is located in the 14th Street–Eighth Avenue New York City Subway station. It is a sculptural group that consists of over 100 cast-bronze sculptures placed throughout the platforms and stairways of the A, C, E, and L lines of the station. Part of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) of New York Arts for Transit Program, which has commissioned more than 170 permanent works of art to decorate the city subway stations, it is one of the most popular in the subway system. The piece took over 10 years to complete. The New York Times notes, "Mr. Otterness worked hard to find creative ways to place his sculpture, navigating around the rules of stations design." Examples of figures in the subway installation include a woman toting a nearly lifesize subway token under her arm; a well-dressed fare jumper crawling under a metal gate; a homeless woman being rousted by the police; two figures holding a cross-cut saw, about to cut into an I-beam that holds up a stairway.
In September 2010, six new Otterness sculptures were installed along Columbia Avenue in Connell, Washington. Otterness was hired by the Washington State Arts Commission to create the bronze figures and stone tables and benches for downtown Connell. The art was paid for with funds from the newly completed Coyote Ridge Corrections Center expansion project. Washington State law allocates one-half of 1 percent of the state's capital construction budget for public art.
Otterness issued an apology which was reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in April, 2008. "Thirty years ago when I was 25 years old, I made a film in which I shot a dog. It was an indefensible act that I am deeply sorry for. Many of us have experienced profound emotional turmoil and despair. Few have made the mistake I made. I hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me — Tom Otterness." 
In New York City in June 2011, the Battery Park City Authority under Bill Thompson (New York) rejected the donation by Otterness of $750,000 in lion sculptures for the area's new public library, after the sculptures were approved by 5-1 by Manhattan Community Board 1 under Chairperson Julie Menin.
In September 2011 Otterness was awarded a $750,000 contract for art in the new Central Subway project in San Francisco. The San Francisco Arts Commission claimed to be unaware of "Shot Dog Film" when they awarded the contract. The mayor of San Francisco put the project on hold, calling "Shot Dog Film" "deeply disturbing".
- ""The Real World"" The Battery Park City Authority
- Vogel, Carol. "Art at the Macy's Parade" The New York Times, Friday, September 23, 2005
- Sheets, Hillarie M., "Creeping Cats & Fish in Hats", Art News 105 (April 2006): 127-29
- "The AI Interview: Tom Otterness," ArtInfo, October 2, 2006
- Sheets, Hilarie M., "Creeping Cats & Fish in Hats", Art News 105 (April 2006): 127-29
- Carducci, Vince. "Tom Otterness: Public Art and the Civic Ideal in the Postmodern Age", Sculpture 24 (April 2005): 28-33 ]
- Sheets, Hilarie M. "Creeping Cats & Fish in Hats", Art News 105 (April 2006): 127-29
- Carducci,Vince. "Tom Otterness: Public Art and the Civic Ideal in the Postmodern Age", Sculpture 24 (April 2005): 28-33
- Sheets, Hilarie M. "Creeping Cats & Fish in Hats", Art News 105 (April 2006)
- Goldberg, Ira. "Speaking with Tom Otterness", Linea: Journal of the Art Students League of New York 10 (spring 2007): 4-7
- Brenson, Michael. "Tom Otterness’ Wicked World of Human and Beastly Folly", The New York Times, Nov. 23, 1990.http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE3DE163FF930A15752C1A966958260
- Sheets, Hilarie M. "Creeping Cats & Fish in Hats", Art News 105 (April 2006): 127-29
- "Adler, Margot: "Subway Art: New York's Underground Treasures", Morning Edition. October 18, 2004.
- Chan, Sewell "Access to Art with a Metrocard Swipe", The New York Times, June 30, 2005
- David W. Dunlap, "Train to the Museum? You're Already There", New York Times, January 21, 2007
- Vince Carducci, "Tom Otterness: Public Art and the Civic Ideal in the Postmodern Age", Sculpture 24 (April 2005): pg 31 ]
- Indiana, Gary: "One Brief, Scuzzy Moment: Memories of the East Village Art Scene", New York Magazine. December 6, 2004.
- Frost, Mary. "Artist Apologizes for Decades-old Dog-Killing Incident", Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 14, 2008.
- Real Estate Brooklyn coverage Bay Ridge Eagle Brooklyn, 2007 NY information :: daily paper in Brooklyn
- Sabatini, Joshua. "Sculptor who killed dog set to make San Francisco Central Subway art", SF Examiner, September 16, 2011
- Lee, Stephanie. "S.F. subway sculpture on hold over artist misdeed", SFgate.com, September 17, 2011
|"Life Underground" by Tom Otterness, Metropolitan Transportation Authority; January 13, 2010; 2:34 YouTube video clip|
- Tom Otterness's Web Site
- Battery Park City Website
- MTA's Arts for Transit Website Entry About Tom Otterness' "Life Underground" Sculptures of 2001