Life Underground by Tom Otterness

The history of New York is perpetually playing out underground on the ACE platform at 8th Avenue and 14th Street. Commissioned by the MTA in the 1990s, Life Underground by Tom Otterness is a not so subtle look at how the rich profited from the poor in building our fair city.

Robber barons horde their coin while the working class get squeezed by the machinations of industry.

Police uphold the status quo.


Even white collar workers get squeezed by the fuzz.

But for all this talk of class warfare, there is something allegorical and whimsical about this work.

The characters themselves were inspired by Progressive Era cartoons of the incredibly corrupt bosses at Tammany Hall that had by hook and crook controlled New York politics for a century.


Still, they are frankly adorable and the working class heroes exude a sense of pluck and adventure.

IMG_0137Then there are the whimsical creatures that seem to serve no other purpose than to alert the viewer to the fact that she is in a fantastical world.

And finally there are notes of triumph.

Education prevailing over oppression.


The lookout for something new.


The businessman being eaten by a fellow-traveller sewer alligator.


All in all, Life Underground leaves one almost hoping for a train delay for more time to explore the installation. Given the current state of things, the MTA might do well to commission Otterness for a few more of these around New York. Just an idea.


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