Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Wichita-born Tom Otterness is my favorite kind of public art, tucked into various places in the 14th Street/8th Avenue subway station in New York City. Over 100 small bronze sculptures are installed throughout the station in vignettes that playfully reference class warfare.

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Above, a cop catches a fare evader. Below, a cop is about to engage with a homeless woman.

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

One of the recurring themes is the figures interacting with oversized subway tokens.

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

Life Underground by Tom Otterness

To me, the aesthetic is reminiscent of the cartoon man from Monopoly. There’s a cuteness to the figures that undercuts the sinister aspects of the depicted scenarios. Check out more photos here and here.

10 thoughts on “Life Underground by Tom Otterness

  1. This is my favourite kind of public art too! The kind you have to keep your eyes peeled for, or you might miss it. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of the world. Really made my day.

  2. We loved seeing these bits of whimsey when we went to NYC. The first time rushing from one train to another and I did a double take. Did I really just see a tiny guy there? Then we see more.
    Loved it, always brought a smile to my face when we’d see the next one. Where they really only in one station?

  3. Here’s a bit of background information from NYC Subway:

    Regular riders doubtless noticed that installation took several years, owing to long disputes with bureaucrats. Otterness now creates exclusively public works and like other public artists — Christo and Jeanne-Claude come to mind — he considers dickering with officials part of the creative process. In the meantime, parts of this installation appeared all over town, from Central Park to Battery Park City to Downtown Brooklyn and Pratt Institute. The entire installation, as Otterness conceived it, is now in place.

    So, depending on where you were there, it seems like you might have seen parts of this outside of this particular station.

    The crazy thing is that I’ve wandered around to try to spot as many bits of this installation as possible but, when I look at other people’s photos, I realize that there are tons of figures I still haven’t seen, even after a few explorations of the station.

  4. Exactly! I love that this installation is meaningful and impactful even if you only see a few of the sculptures, but the narrative becomes more complex and layered if you spend more time exploring the station.

    It’s an instance of public art having more than just immediate impact but evolving over repeat visits.

  5. Pingback: The Gates by Tom Otterness, Maya Lin and Tan Lin | Visualingual

  6. Pingback: Looking Back: Best VL Posts of 2012 | Visualingual

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