Tom Otterness’ “Life Underground”: A Public Art Display

“Life Underground” is the title of a public art project that was commissioned by the city of New York and done by sculptor Tom Otterness.  Made of bronze, the humorous figures depict scenes of what goes on down here and gives some insight as to what might go on when there are only a handful of people around.  Recently I took a ride over to the 14th Street and Eighth Avenue station via the “L” train and wandered around the platform and just above it to see how many images I could snare of these citizens of the subway system.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

The first one I caught site of was this snake and since this is one of the “supposed” things we would find down here I am just glad that he wasn’t real.  We’ve all seen rats scurrying about on the tracks but luckily no snakes.  I guess if there were any of those around there would be less rats eh?  Are you thinking what I am thinking?  Nevermind, let’s continue.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This poor little bugger seems to have gotten himself stuck under something.  At first I thought it was a giant mechanical thumb and with this in mind I scanned my Zune player for the appropriate song by the Rolling Stones.  I stopped when I realized that I was mistaken.

tom otterness, life underground sculpturesWhile still down on the platform for the “L” Train I caught these two little sculptures up to no good.  It seems that this pair thought it would be a good idea to chop down one of the support beams of the station.  Hey guys, this is not the “Extreme Logger” show so get moving before I call a cop.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

The other side of the logging team.  Apparently this was a husband and wife effort.

tom otterness, life underground sculpturesThese two folks were very likely depicting tourists as they are wide-eyed and have their transit fare in hand.  Come on down my friends from afar, there is a lot to see in this city and even down here.  You came to the right place.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

I was not sure what this young lady was doing other than flashing so let’s just leave her be.  She will be done soon enough.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This appears to be a policeman watching over a sleeping homeless person.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

If you have ever wondered whether or not there are alligators in the sewer, we get some kind of answer from Mr. Otterness with this sculpt that shows a gator jumping out of the drainage system to snare an unsuspecting visitor.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

Time To Munch

Talk about breakfast on the go.  This gives a new meaning to the aspect of “fast food” that is for sure.  I bet these images make you think twice about passing any open manhole covers.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

Mr. Moneybags is actually positioned right over the alligator one and he hardly seems phased by the activity.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This was my least favorite of the sculptures and shows an ear.  For me it didn’t make sense among the other ones.  I must have been missing something here.  Oh well.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

I didn’t know what was going on with this one either but I enjoyed its rather interesting perspective.  It seems as though this one is meant to be looked at sideways.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

Another shot of our tourist friends from just before.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

A fine example of some workers who were obviously taking a little break from whatever maintenance that they were involved in.  I just hope when they get back to work that it doesn’t disrupt my line.  I want to get home at a reasonable time.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This policeman caught a fare beater and that’s always good to see since these cretins are among the reasons that the cost of a ride keeps going up on us.  There were a couple of these kind of critters to catch your eye and below is the other one.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

The Price Of Unlimited Metro Cards Meets With Disapproval

My guess is that the policemen statues will have their hands full once the Metrocards go up in price again.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This looks like the man to know since he has a number of extra tokens in his possession.  Of course with the Metrocard being employed for so long I am sure that many of you younger folks don’t even know what a token looks like.  Look around your older relatives desk drawers if they give you permission.  Maybe you will find one.  Of course I also think that there are some to be purchased on the official MTA Subway store HERE.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

A visual of one of the sculptures that was clearly losing her head today.  This must have been the waiting on the subway line at a late hour.  Trust me dear, try waiting on the “R” train to Bay Ridge on a late night.  It’s enough to make you go to pieces even more than this.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

Another police officer sculpture keeps a watchful eye over one of the less fortunate of his fellow statues.  I will hope that he just leaves him be since he was only sleeping and not causing a ruckus.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This bloke is just making his way somewhere with token in hand.  I smiled when I wondered where he might be going.  Perhaps there was a show at the nearby Highline Ballroom, or maybe he just wanted to grab a couple of beers at McKenna’s right upstairs from where we were.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This was a silly one but cool as well.  The woman is sitting on the man who is himself lying on a pile of tokens.   Perhaps this is transit rider defiance in some fashion.  I am all for the solidarity if it keeps the fare down.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

Another policeman and homeless person sculpt.  Looks like the same as the other but slightly different pose.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This little sculpture was getting her wish come true by a visit from the token giant.  I could be wrong about its title but who cares, it still seems to work for the visual.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

I tried to get a clearer shot of our tourists from earlier and managed to get a good one before they made their way onto the train and their adventures.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

These next shots are the ones that were rather tricky because there is a solid beam jutting up from the platform and rising above the stairs that let the people go up and down on their way to wherever.  The top shows a worker looking down on his mates as they position the beam properly.  Careful up there, we don’t want you to fall.  Primarily because you are made of bronze.  That will hurt anyone below you.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

This is more of a sweeping shot of the beam and the worker above it.  Whew, talk about precarious.  As you see in the photo below it was not easy to shoot as one single shot.  I also had far too many people in my viewer and was waiting and waiting for less of them to be around for me to bring this to you.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

We caught this token tosser perched precariously above our heads and wondered why he was doing what he was doing.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

The Token Tosser

Clearly he seems interested in causing disruption to more than just the wandering commuters and aiming his mischief at the clean up crew.  Don’t worry boys, you are doing a fine job at keeping the platform spiffy.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

The Cleanup Never Ends

Not far from the staircase where I found those precarious figures on the long beam I came upon these little fellows.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

They were also hard at work and there was a decent crew of them earnestly working on their task.  I tried to zoom in on a few before I made my way back home.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

A Little More To The Left

These two below look to be letting the others do all the work as the critter on the top beam is looking to have a blast and toasting the ones below.  Of course we see our Mr. Money Bag just looking down upon it all and I guess this just goes to show how a little bit of cash prevents you from getting your hands dirty with the hard labor.  Oh well.

tom otterness, life underground sculptures

A View From The Right

I don’t think that I missed too many of the sculptures, but I plan a return visit and that next time I will mark down what I have presented already to be sure I don’t repeat my shots.  You can read more of the finer details about this exhibit via it’s Wikipedia entry HERE.  Of course there is nothing quite like seeing them in person which I highly recommend.  Bring your camera along.  I did 🙂

How To Get There: If you are visiting New York City, NY, then this is a relatively easy find.  As mentioned, this artistic display is located on the Eighth Avenue & 14th Street Station, and once you are at this spot you need to go downstairs and pay a fare to get passed the turnstiles were a majority of these “creatures” reside.  You can see a handful from the token booth, but not too many. It’s best observed if you are traveling somewhere in the region and can take a momentary side trip.  Trains that get to this station are the “L”, the “A” and the “E”.  Have a blast.

Official Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Underground

Comments (4)

  1. I love those sculptures! Your dialogue made me laugh…

  2. This snake shall henceforth be known as,”Walter.” Hello, Walter.

  3. coffee bean

    I love thes figures! Everytime I go to the 14th street station, I always take the time to admire these 🙂 I love NY <3

  4. Teve

    Great pictures! Are these tiny ‘folk’ or can one bump into them – this being from someone who hasn’t been on a train in years. Loved them.

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