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Tom Otterness was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1952 and moved to New York City in 1970, where he began taking classes at the Art Students League and shortly thereafter in 1973 entered the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program. In 1978, he began working as a public artist with Collaborative Projects (a.k.a. Colab), a socially active artist's collective. His first major public exposure came in 1980 during the Times Square Show organized by Colab and others.
Since then, Otterness has been commissioned by a variety of public entities in the United States and abroad. The General Services Administration, the Battery Park City Authority, the Cleveland Public Library, the City of Münster, Germany, and the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority are among the many agencies that have commissioned his work. He is included in many museum collections, among them the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the Museum Beelden aan Zee, Scheveningen, The Netherlands.
Otterness is currently represented by Marlborough Gallery.