LOVE YOUR WORK, TOM – though shooting that dog was wrong

Tom Otterness's sculptures take pride of place by the esplanade in Scheveningen, near The Hague in the Netherlands.

Tom Otterness’s sculptures take pride of place on the esplanade in Scheveningen, near The Hague in the Netherlands.

We’re very sorry to be missing the always wonderful Sculpture by the Sea event in Sydney this year, but the Dutch have sculpture by the North Sea too.

Googling the American sculptor Tom Otterness, after seeing his work by the beach in Scheveningen, I read that he once filmed himself shooting a dog, for an art film. It cost him some lucrative commissions. He apologised. Not good enough, say some of his critics. He killed the dog in 1977, when he was 25. Is all forgiven? Is it okay to enjoy his work now?

Mr Otterness has also attracted controversy for his sculptures in New York’s subways, where his quirky little bronze characters are rather heavy-handed parodies of the uncaring rich and privileged. Having been handsomely rewarded for his work, the artist is probably rich and privileged himself. Should this disqualify him from commenting on social inequality?

Plenty of artists whose work we admire have lived less than admirable personal lives; Caravaggio, Genet, Polanski… Charles Dickens made a very comfortable living from expressing his empathy with the poor and downtrodden and, though a noted philanthropist, abandoned his own family.

The Otterness work at Scheveningen seems uncontroversial to us. His cartoonish figures suggest fairytales, some of which we recognise, some we don’t. They may not be great art, but they certainly charm, intrigue and brighten up the waterfront outside the excellent Museum Beelden aan Zee.

What do you think?

Out to Sea

What's the story?

King and ring

Fish and herring eater

Herring eater

Looking up



Filed under Art, Holland

11 responses to “LOVE YOUR WORK, TOM – though shooting that dog was wrong

  1. If we ignored the art of unsuitable people maybe there wouldn’t me much left.

  2. Ali Isaac

    The sculptures are entertaining, but wickedness should not be ignored or condoned for the sake of calling it ‘art’. What is artistic about killing an animal? About taking a life? If we condone that, where does it end? Art, in whatever form, is a celebration of skill and creativity; killing something is the opposite of that.

  3. Perhaps that is the deal Richard – if a person is going to be gifted then they are also going to be a bit weird!

  4. I must admit I have a hard time with the dog story, but his work is odd and interesting. Love the last shot. That one seems very Dutch, somehow. It has always seemed to me that the Dutch spend a tremendous amount of energy keeping one another at a distance (since they are always close, physically), and that little statue represents the loneliness that solution creates. What do you think, Richard?

    • Yes, I really like those little ‘incidental’ figures scattered around the major works, clinging to them, holding them up, or just observing. Whether a certain standoffishness is really Dutch, I don’t know. I have the advantage there of having become part of a Dutch family.

  5. Interesting debate Richard. The art work of Rolf Harris is being removed all over the place. Obviously not for the nature of the artwork but for the circumstances of the artist.

    • Indeed, Pete, Rolf Harris came to my mind as well. Though I have no reason to think that Tom Otterness regularly and systematically does things we deplore.

      And Harris’ art work, clever and competent though it is, was hung not so much for its innate quality, but rather because of the artist’s celebrity as a loveable family entertainer.

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