Volume 20, Number 48 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 13 - 19, 2011
Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer
Sculptor Tom Otterness (left) with a model of the Battery Park City branch library, the proposed site of his latest sculpture, at Community Board 1’s B.P.C. Committee meeting on April 5.
Mixed response over B.P.C. sculpture
BY Terese Loeb Kreuzer
An anonymous donor who lives in Battery Park City has offered to commission a sculpture worth about $750,000 to be placed at the entrance of the B.P.C. branch library. But some members of Community Board 1 aren’t so sure they want it at all.
At a joint meeting of C.B. 1’s Battery Park City Committee and Arts and Entertainment Task Force on April 5, sculptor Tom Otterness arrived with a large, wooden model of the library showing where the proposed five-foot-tall, bronze lions might be positioned on North End Avenue, along the library’s façade. He also had slides of sketches of Ma and Pa lion and their cubs, along with photos of clay models depicting the stately parents and the rambunctious youngsters, some of whom are chewing books as pennies spill out around them.
“Who will maintain this?” was Battery Park City chair Linda Belfer’s first question.
Otterness said he thought that would be the Battery Park City Authority, which maintains his sculpture, “The Real World,” in Rockefeller Park.
“This is the first I’m hearing that you would want our help to maintain this,” said Gayle Horwitz, president of the B.P.C.A. “I’m not saying no, I’m not saying yes. This is something we would have to look at.”
Otterness apologized for his assumption.
Battery Park City Committee member Anthony Notaro wanted to know what permissions would be necessary to place the sculpture in front of the library.
“The North neighborhood streets belong to Battery Park City. If you wanted to use the actual sidewalk, it would have to be a franchise request made to the Authority that we would put through our usual process,” explained Horwitz.
She also said that other than approving or rejecting the street request, the Authority had nothing to say about whether there should be Tom Otterness lions in front of the library, or not. “We would look to the community and your involvement as to what the community is interested in,” said Horwitz.
George Mihaltes, vice president for government and community affairs at the New York Public Library, also disclaimed any controlling say on the future of the library lions.
“We’re here tonight to listen,” Mihaltes said, and added that the library did have questions about maintenance, liability and insurance. Mihaltes was particularly concerned about a lion cub that Otterness had positioned inside the library, peering through the glass at its siblings frolicking outside.
“This is the first time we’re seeing this,” Mihaltes said.
Otterness sort of apologized again. “This was a last-minute inspiration,” he replied.
Linda Belfer brought up another question—whether a Request for Proposals would be required so that more than one artist’s proposal would be considered.
Horwitz shared Belfer’s apprehension.
“To be quite honest with you, I am concerned about the process or the lack thereof,” Horwitz said. “We obviously are great supporters of public art and have a long history of that but there are some questions that would probably come up in our review process.”
Belfer also didn’t like the fact that the donor was anonymous. She wondered if this was somebody who would embarrass the Community Board or the Authority.
Otterness said the donor was a major collector of his work who doesn’t want to step forward and acknowledge his gift “out of modesty.” To a suggestion that perhaps the donor would be willing to reveal his name privately to the committee, Otterness replied that he would ask but that he had to respect the donor’s wishes.
“How closely do you look a gift horse in the mouth?” said Otterness.
Horwitz noted that the source of the money would affect the ownership of the art. “The other art in Battery Park City is owned and maintained by the Authority,” she said. “So that’s a complicating factor.”
Next, Belfer took exception to what the cubs were up to in the sculpture. “Are you sure you want the lion cub to tear the book?” she asked.
Paul Sipos, co-chair of the Arts and Entertainment Task Force, chimed in and said that if a vote were to be taken on the Otterness lions, he would have to abstain “because there are too many unanswered questions.”
Percy Corcoran, a public member of Community Board 1, brought up another issue. In 1977, Otterness shot a dog and made a film about its death. He has apologized for this on many occasions and when Corcoran mentioned it at the meeting, he apologized again. “It’s something I deeply regret,” said Otterness. “I think it’s indefensible.”
Sipos said that the apology was not sufficient and that this would be “the primary reason” he would have to abstain from voting affirmatively on a resolution to go forward with the Otterness lions.
“This incident occurred 34 years ago,” said Harold Reed, chair of the Arts and Entertainment Task Force. He said that he believed that Otterness was sincere in his apology and that forgiveness was needed.
“Tom is one of the major creators of public art in the world,” said Reed. “His art has been installed in Spain, in Germany, in the Netherlands, in France… I think this would be a great addition and enhancement to Battery Park City.”
“Do we have to do a resolution on this tonight?” Belfer asked.
“Yes,” said Roger Byrom, a member of the Arts and Entertainment Task Force. “There aren’t many people who donate market value three quarters of a million dollars.”
Byrom proposed some wording for a resolution: “We wholeheartedly support Tom Otterness progressing with the project subject to the conditions that the Battery Park City Authority needs to go through. We think it would be a great addition to the community and we’re very grateful for the fact that this would be a funded donation.”
Belfer still wasn’t satisfied. She suggested that the resolution state that the Community Board supports “progressing with the process” instead of “the project.”
The amended resolution passed and will go before C.B. 1’s full board meeting on April 26.
“That doesn’t mean that in the end either [Otterness] or his piece will be the chosen one,” Belfer had said during the course of the meeting, raising the question of whether the anonymous donor would be willing to part with three quarters of a million dollars to support someone else’s work, and if not, where the money for any sculpture would come from.