14 St (A/C/E/L)

Life Underground

Tom Otterness
Artwork in bronze by Tom Otterness showing little cartoon-like figures installed throughout the station.
“Life Underground” (2001) by Tom Otterness at NYCT 14 St Station. Photo: Rob Wilson

About the Project

The scores of figures created by Tom Otterness’ “Life Underground” invigorate and transform the transit environment into a place of joy and whimsy. 

His small-scale sculptures invoke the subway and lore of the city and include an alligator rising out of a sewer to devour a man, workers carrying oversize versions of the tools used to build the subways, and people sneaking under fences to watch the construction or sweep up piles of pennies. There are also colossal feet and a totem-like sculpture whose human features are formed into the shape of a telephone. 

Otterness placed his creations in unexpected places-beneath stairs and pillars, hanging from the ceiling, and on benches and railings-to surprise and delight riders as they come upon these humorous and captivating inhabitants. 

About the Artist

Brooklyn based artist, Tom Otterness is a founding member of Collaborative Project, Inc. and an acclaimed sculptor in his own right. Born in Wichita, Kansas, Otterness came to New York City to study at the Arts Student League. With a focus on public art, Otterness has gone on to complete over three dozen public commissions. Often situated in parks, plazas, and other shared spaces, Otterness’s wry, playful sculptures of cartoonish characters gently critique the ills of American society. The artist combines cheerful, round little figures in ways that elicit themes of class, race, sex, and the greed of capitalism.