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incised with the artist's signature, number and date 'TOM OTTERNESS 1⁄3 2002' (on the figure's proper right leg shackle)
bronze and gold leaf
76 5⁄8 x 433 5⁄8 x 93 ¾ in. (194.6 x 1126.8 x 238.1 cm.)
Executed in 2002. This work is number one from an edition of three plus one artist's proof.
Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
Private collection, Ossining, 2002
Acquired from the above by the present owner
K. Johnson, “Art in Review: Tom Otterness,” New York Times, 3 May 2002, section E, p. 39.
Marlborough Gallery, New York, Free Money and Other Fairy Tales, April-May 2002, pp. 19-20, no. 10 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
St. Louis Community College, Meremec, 2002-present (another example exhibited).
New York, Marlborough Gallery in association with New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the Broadway Mall Association, Tom Otterness on Broadway, September-November 2004 (another example exhibited).
Indianapolis Children’s Museum, Tom Otterness in Indianapolis, April-July 2005 (another example exhibited).
Grand Rapids Meijer Gardens, Tom Otterness in Grand Rapids, June-September 2006.
State University of New York at New Paltz, Gulliver, May-December 2014 (another example exhibited).

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Lot Essay

Among one of the most recognizable public artists working today, Tom Otterness combines a strict visual vocabulary with a penchant for dynamic, whimsical subjects that reflect on and contribute to their often urban environs. Gulliver is a prime example of Otterness’s sculptural incursions and translates a scene from classic literature through his iconography of Platonic solids and simplified characters. Though his subjects may seem lighthearted, the artist has an abiding respect for the role of public art, and has noted, "I think public art functions as a town square does. It's an object through which people can talk to each other." (T. Otterness, quoted in T. Loos, “A Fractured Fairy Tale Set on Broadway,” The New York Times, September 12, 2004). Having helped found Collaborative Projects, or Colab, along with artists like Kiki Smith, Jenny Holzer, and John Ahearn in the 1980s, Otterness has continued the group’s interest in making art outside of the confines of the traditional gallery space.

Monumental in scale, Gulliver is cast in unpainted bronze and spans nearly 37 feet from end to end. Comprised of a large, elongated figure shackled to the ground and a smaller person holding a gold key, the whole tableau is a direct reference to Jonathan Swift’s hapless explorer in the land of the Lilliputians. The majority of the work is made up of two long, thin legs that end in swollen feet on one end and are attached to the cylinder of the man’s body on the other. Two similarly cartoon-like arms emerge from the torso, and the man’s extended neck is inclined at an angle to view his small captor. Atop the prisoner’s spherical head is a cone-shaped hat that sits at a jaunty angle. The jailer walks along the man’s leg like a bridge as he inspects the padlocked shackles on each of his charge’s extremities. Though made of simple solids, the entire scene is rife with the humorous take on time-honored subjects that Otterness has made his calling card.

Widely known for his public sculptures and their ability to lend an energetic air to areas as diverse as public parks and subway stations, Otterness has a knack for inserting figures and stories into the monotony of the everyday. Critic Ken Johnson notes, “Otterness can animate public spaces with amusing pudgy bronze cartoon characters, acting out parables of modern life without pandering to either sophisticates or ordinary folks. “ (K. Johnson, “Art in Review: Tom Otterness: Free Money and Other Fairy Tales,” The New York Times, May 3, 2002). Borrowing from the narrative of Gullivers Travels, the artist is able to instill a bizarre scene with literary context and humor.

Though works like Gulliver are often firmly rooted in literary tradition or a playful commentary on the world, Otterness is interested in how the pieces and their meanings change when they start to exist in the living world of the city. "You think you are making something, and then you put it out in the public, and you see it’s understood in a very different way. As an artist, you learn from public reaction" (T. Otterness, quoted in S. Ravishankar, “In Conversation with the Sculptor - Tom Otterness,” Elegran, June 18, 2013). By keeping his figures and forms recognizable, Otterness is able to present the viewer with an activator for the space which they share with their sculptural counterparts.

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