Letter from director Grant Holcomb to Gallery members
As I’m sure you know, the Gallery has recently come under some criticism. In light of this, I thought it important to share my thoughts on Tom Otterness’s selection as one of the artists whose work will be featured in our new Centennial Sculpture Park, and to provide some perspective.
Specifically, 34 years ago as a young artist, Tom created an artwork based on the killing of an animal. He has publicly and profusely apologized for that indefensible act and, since then, has proven himself a well respected and committed artist dedicated to creating family-friendly sculpture specifically for public places from San Jose to New York City, St. Louis to Toronto. We contacted artists, directors and curators across the country and I think it fair to say that all, while not condoning Otterness’s actions, feel that the incident should be considered an aberration in a celebrated 35-year career. As one colleague stated several years back, “This is an artist who is probably the most responsive to community of any artist in America, so for him to be tarred for one piece that he did as a young artist, one which he willingly admits that he made a big mistake—to try to hold that against him after a lifetime of work [is unfair].”
Tom was one of 50 artists whose work was considered by various Gallery committees that included staff, Board and individuals in our cultural community. His proposal for the Gallery met our main criteria for accessibility, durability and excellence. In the end, he was one of four internationally renowned artists selected for the Sculpture Park.
Below is the statement that I sent to the press when asked for a response earlier this week. It reflects the full due-diligence of the Gallery. I hope the statement below conveys our commitment to professional practices and processes.
“The selection of Tom Otterness as one of the artists commissioned for the Memorial Art Gallery’s new Centennial Sculpture Park was made based on the merits of his work and the fact that, of all the artists considered, Tom met most, if not all, of the criteria established by the Gallery’s various committees comprised of Gallery staff and Board, as well as individuals in the art community. During the process, we became aware of the incident that occurred 34 years ago when Tom was 25 years of age. He addressed our concerns and has publically and unqualifiedly apologized for an indefensible decision that he made many, many years ago. He never repeated the outrage but rather redeemed himself and his career by becoming one of the notable sculptors of public art in America and abroad.”
Please know that the Gallery Board and staff are addressing this difficult and high-charged issue. We thank you for your interest in and support of the Gallery.
The Mary W. and Donald R. Clark Director