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Controversial Artist's Lion Sculptures Approved

By Julie Shapiro | April 27, 2011 1:10pm | Updated on April 27, 2011 1:09pm

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

BATTERY PARK CITY — An artist who once gunned down a dog on film should not have his work displayed in Battery Park City because of his "sheer depravity," animal lovers told a community board.

Sculptor Tom Otterness’ installation of a pair of bronze lions with their cub is set to stand in front of Battery Park City Library, on North End Avenue.

But local dog lovers told Community Board 1 during Tuesday’s meeting his horrific actions for the 1977 art movie "Shot Dog," in which he adopted a shelter dog and killed it on camera, makes the public display unacceptable.

"His work will always be tainted by the horrendous act of its maker," said Kathleen Daly-Crum, a Battery Park City resident and dog owner who called the movie "sheer depravity."

"It was done with such premeditation … it took my breath away," Daly-Crum said.

The horrific act was filmed for an art clip that was just a few seconds long, and was intended to be shown on a loop.

Otterness has since apologized, saying he deeply regretted his actions, but the issue sparked a lively debate about art, morality and censorship at the community board meeting.

The board ultimately voted 28 to 7, with four abstentions, to support the lions project. The proposal now needs to be debated by the Battery Park City Authority and by the library.

Harold Reed, chairman of the board's Arts & Entertainment Task Force, read excerpts of Otterness' apology and said enough time had elapsed that Otterness should be forgiven.

Reed added that the community ought to take advantage of the rare chance to have a free piece of public art installed — Otterness has already found an anonymous donor to cover the $750,000 cost of the sculptures.

But for Mike Devereaux, who has lived in Battery Park City for 21 years and brought his two dogs to the meeting, Otterness' words were not convincing.

"What has he done to demonstrate that he deserves to have his art in the community?" Devereaux said.

Several board members also expressed concerns about the maintenance of the sculptures and the lack of a public request for proposals process.

Among supporters was Tom Goodkind, the CB1 member and Battery Park City resident who first thought up the idea of Otterness’ lions to guard the new library several years ago.

Goodkind said it would be just as wrong to ban the Otterness sculptures outside the library as it would be to censor controversial books inside of it, and he pointed out that libraries are traditionally bastions of free speech.

"Does anyone see the irony here?" Goodkind asked.