Debate still roaring over Otterness lions

At Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee meeting on April 5, 2011, sculptor Tom Otterness presented his proposal to create five-foot-high lions for the entrance of the Battery Park City branch library on North End Avenue. Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

BY Terese Loeb Kreuzer |  Reports that the Battery Park City Authority had snuffed out a Community Board 1 proposal for sculpted lions to be placed near the B.P.C. library entrance were premature. Most of the members of C.B. 1’s Battery Park City Committee and of its Arts and Entertainment Task Force favor having the lions — and specifically would like to see them designed by world-renowned sculptor Tom Otterness, whose work, “The Real World,” was unveiled in Battery Park City in 1992. They are not willing to abandon a project that has been debated in various forums for the last three years and for which funding has already been identified.

A meeting of C.B. 1’s B.P.C. Committee on July 5 in which the lions were discussed grew extremely heated. Linda Belfer, committee chair, said to committee member Tom Goodkind, “Quite frankly, I think this thing was handled badly from the very beginning. It was brought to this committee as an established fact without ever alerting me, for example… Harold [Reed] and you and Dennis [Gault of the Arts and Entertainment Task Force] made a decision that this was what was going to happen without consulting anybody.”

“That’s a total lie,” Goodkind replied.

Raising her voice, Belfer said that her assertion was not “a total lie.” She said that she knew nothing about the library lions until Tom Otterness appeared at a B.P.C. committee meeting on April 5, 2011 with sketches and a mock-up of the project.

Goodkind said the project was completely vetted, with meetings and communications dating back to 2008 between all interested parties including C.B. 1, the Battery Park City Authority, the New York Public Library and the New York City Department of Transportation.

“As far as the Board goes, we are on record, four to one in favor of this art,” said Goodkind. “If that isn’t a community voting for art, then I don’t know what is.”

The library lions have inspired passionate support and passionate denunciation. Supporters love Otterness’ work. Detractors revile him because 34 years ago, he shot a dog for an art project — an action that he has said repeatedly he deeply regrets and for which he has apologized many times.

The anti-lion contingent was heartened by a letter from B.P.C.A. President Gayle Horwitz to C.B. 1 Chair Julie Menin. Dated June 29, 2011, the letter said in part that public art had previously been installed in Battery Park City as part of a Master Plan. “Each piece of art was specifically commissioned by the Authority through a public process and was then paid for by the Authority,” the letter said. “Historically, the public process was designed to ensure that the Authority had a fully transparent and fair process in place for selecting artists, based on recommendations from experts in the art world.” The proposed Otterness lions wouldn’t measure up, according to Horwitz, because they weren’t part of the Master Plan, they hadn’t been vetted by the Authority and the B.P.C.A. wouldn’t be paying for them.

Goodkind said that references to the sacrosanct “Master Plan” were hogwash. Among other things, he claimed that a sculpture called “Ulysses” was placed in Battery Park City in 2007 after an official with the Empire Development Corporation accepted a $30,000 bribe from the sculptor’s manager. He also referenced the shattered remains of Fritz Koenig’s “The Sphere,” which would have ended up in Battery Park City after the World Trade Center attack had the community not vehemently protested.

“The main thing is that there are a number of art works that did come to the community after the initial plan,” said Goodkind. “Another thing that gets rid of the whole argument is that Tom Otterness was one of those artists. He was vetted and he’s already part of the community.”

The Horwitz letter to Menin also focused on the “anonymous donor” who had stepped forward to pay for the library lions and fund the maintenance costs — an estimated $2,000 a year — which she said the Authority was not prepared to shoulder.

As you well know, acceptance of gifts by governmental agencies is a very sensitive issue,” Horwitz wrote. “The Public Authorities Law demands transparency.”

Horwitz concluded by saying, “Under these circumstances, it would be imprudent for the Authority to accept this anonymous donation.”

Committee member Bill Love said that he didn’t understand the Authority’s focus on an anonymous donor, which he said was internal to Otterness’ financing. If a donor wanted to give Otterness money for lions and Otterness wanted to give lions to Battery Park City, that would be Otterness’ business, in Love’s view, and not something that the Authority or anyone else would need to investigate.

“It sounds to me as though they focused on the anonymous gift and [on the absence of an] R.F.P. [Request for Proposals] as a way of turning it down,” Love said. ‘It seems to me that the art should have been evaluated on its own merits.”

After some more discussion, the B.P.C. Committee resolved to ask C.B. 1 chair Menin to write to Gayle Horwitz saying that the community would like a piece of art placed in front of the library and asking what would be necessary to get that done.

“Once we get that answered, then we can figure out whether we can move forward,” Belfer said.

“I am honored to have had one of my works – my piece ‘The Real World’ – exhibited in Battery Park City since 1992, and I am thrilled to have Community Board 1’s enthusiastic support for the proposed donation of my new piece, the ‘Library Lions,’” Otterness said in a statement.  “I look forward to working with the B.P.C.A. to resolve any procedural issues so we can get to work.”

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6 Responses to Debate still roaring over Otterness lions

  1. There is no more debate, he was rejected :)

  2. There is no more debate, he was rejected :)

  3. Pingback: Central Subway Artist Once Shot Shot Dog on Video | KQED News Fix

  4. Pingback: Art Money for Dog Killer! #SFmayor uproar over @OtternessStudio @Central_Subway art | The Mobile Technology Hub

  5. Pingback: Art Money for Dog Killer! #SFmayor uproar over @OtternessStudio @Central_Subway art | Press information bureau

  6. DevanThis experience is piesrlecs. You are amazing. Thanks for sharing these pictures. Have a wonderful time at the beach. A well deserved R & R. How is the ankle doing? Can’t wait to pictures of Mount Kilimanjaro.Aunt Pat

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