Tom Otterness was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1952. He came to New York City in 1970 to study at the Arts Students League, and in 1973 took part in the Whitney Independent Study Program. In 1977 he became a member of Collaborative Projects, a pioneering community of independent artists, and took a leading role in organizing Colab’s 1980 Times Square Show, which was called “the first avant-garde art show of the ‘80s” by the Village Voice. Otterness is one of a handful of contemporary artists invited to design a balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, for which he devised a tumbling Humpty-Dumpty in 2005. Otterness lives and works in New York, New York.
Otterness may well be “the world’s best public sculptor,” as the art critic Ken Johnson opined in the New York Times in 2002. Public art is his focus, and Otterness has had major outdoor exhibitions of his sculptures on the Park Avenue Mall in New York (2003), in more than a dozen sites in downtown Indianapolis (2005), on the grounds of the Beverly Hills city hall (2005-2006) and throughout Grand Rapids, Michigan (2006). His first solo exhibition, held at Brooke Alexander Gallery in New York in 1983, featured elements of The New World (1991), a white plaster frieze of 250 nude “Ur-people,” as essayist Hayden Herrera called them, eventually destined for the plaza of the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles, a General Services Administration commission.
In the United States., Otterness has completed at least three dozen public commissions, including Life Underground (2004), his celebrated multi-figural bronze sculpture installation for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Agency at the 14th Street station on the Eighth Avenue subway lines. His international commissions include public plazas in Münster, Germany (1993), Toronto, Canada (2007), and Seoul, South Korea (2010), and a large public park in Scheveningen, The Netherlands (2004). In 2013, Creation Myth, a gateway park for the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, was dedicated.
Works by Otterness are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York; The Eli Broad Family Foundation, Los Angeles, California; The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California; The Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; The Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, Mexico; The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and others. He was elected a member of the National Academy in 1994.
More recently, Otterness has installed The Tables from the collection of The Whitney and 50 new sculptures in niches at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, as part of the group exhibition, The Value of Food. On a personal note, Otterness has practiced Tai Chi, martial arts, and boxing in the school of William C. C. Chen since the 1970s, and his studio features a boxing bag. Some early boxing fights in the 1970s were filmed as part of his punk art, and he has won prizes for his Tai Chi.