Artist's animal cruelty act stops $750,000 art project


Tom Otterness describes his sculptures as cartoonish and whimsical. But a film he created more than 30 years ago has animal rights activists like Anita Carswell incensed.

"If you knew a 25-year-old right now who went to a shelter, lied to the staff, took a dog, chained him to a fence and shot him, you would not excuse this person and say 'Well, he didn't know any better,'" said Carswell.

In 1977, at 25 years old, Otterness produced a video he called "Shot Dog Film". ABC7 spoke with Otterness on the phone from his home in Brooklyn, New York and he plainly apologized.

In his words he said, "It's a really inexcusable act, and when I try to explain my act, it just sounds like I'm trying to justify it, and it's just inexcusable."

Similar controversies have erupted in other cities over this video, but San Francisco leaders just learned about this now -- a week after his contract was signed.

"We learned of this last night. I got a call from Mayor Lee who was extremely upset this afternoon when he heard of this news and I've been directed, as president of the Arts Commission, to place a halt on any further work on this particular art installation," said San Francisco Arts Commission president P.J. Johnston.

Otterness told ABC7 he hopes San Franciscans can forgive him for something he did more than 30 years ago. ABC7 asked a few dog owners if that's possible.

"Well, on one hand, it's quite disgusting, I can also understand the evolution of an artist as well as a human being," said dog owner Jeff Kaluzny.

"Maybe because I'm a dog lover and perhaps everybody deserves another chance, but to do this by design it's not something I can ever identify with or accept," said dog owner Ken Hwang.

With the contract now frozen, the Arts Commission will re-visit their decision to award this installation to Otterness. And since a contract has already been signed, Johnston says they'll likely also have the San Francisco city attorney examine the issue.

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