Central Subway contract with artist who killed dog comes under fire in San Francisco 

Pressure is mounting for The City to terminate the $750,000 art contract with a Brooklyn, N.Y., artist who killed a dog for a film.

A petition drive was started by one mayoral candidate calling for the contract’s termination and Mayor Ed Lee has told the Arts Commission to re-examine the approval. The contract with artist Tom Otterness was called into question following an article in The San Francisco Examiner’s Friday edition.

Otterness shot and killed a dog on film in 1977 and called it art. He was 25 at the time and over the years has repeatedly apologized.

“If true, Mayor Lee finds this extremely disturbing and has called the Arts Commission president to immediately halt the process on that particular part of the public art project and look into this immediately,” mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said late Friday.

The $750,000 contract was awarded to Otterness in June for his proposal to place 59 bronze sculptures in three levels of the proposed Moscone transit station. The station is part of the $1.6 billion Central Subway project, a 1.7-mile railway tunnel that would connect Chinatown to the South of Market area.

Mayoral candidate and state Sen. Leland Yee set up a petition drive Friday calling on The City to rescind the agreement.

“It is completely unacceptable for taxpayers, especially here in San Francisco, to foot a $750,000 bill on someone who tortured a dog as part of a supposed art film,” Yee said in a released statement.

Neither the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors, which approved the contract, nor the Arts Commission, which recommended the artist, said they were aware of Otterness’ dog-killing past.

“This contract should be placed on hold,” said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who chairs the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. “The background research on this artist was inadequate. Had it been more thorough, I highly doubt the contract would have been awarded to him.”

Since making the 1977 canine snuff film, Otterness has gone on to have a successful art career, receiving numerous government commissions for his generally cute, cartoonish bronze sculptures of people and animals. His work is on display in the New York subway and around the world.

On Friday Otterness, issued a statement amid the outcry calling the incident “indefensible” and one “born out of the deep despair I was feeling at that time of my life.”

“I have spent the 34 years since then living with my mistake, and trying to bring joy into the world through my public art,” Otterness said. “I am deeply honored to have had my work chosen for the San Francisco subway and I hope that seeing the work might help people forgive me for my horrible mistake many years ago.”

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