Life Underground

Life Underground (2001) is an artwork created by sculptor Tom Otterness for the 14th Street – 8th Avenue station of the NYC subway. The installation is a series of whimsical miniature bronze sculptures depicting cartoonish characters showing people and animals in various situations and are dispersed throughout the station. Otterness said the subject of the work is the impossibility of  life in New York. Art critic Olympia Lambert wrote that the lovable bronze characters installed there are joined together by a common theme of implied criminality mixed with an undercurrent of social anarchy. Many of the figures have money-bag heads, and Otterness credits 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast’s depiction of Boss Tweed and the corruption of Tammany Hall that was ongoing at the time of the subway’s initial construction as his inspiration for these. One of the larger pieces depicts a sewer alligator and a 10” high bronze man, who is struggling to escape his powerful jaws. Otterness became so obsessed with this project, that he delivered more than four times the amount of artwork he was originally commissioned to produce. His wife finally made him end expansion of the collection by imploring him to stop “giving away our daughter’s whole inheritance”. The complete series encompasses more than 100 individual pieces.

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