'Free Money' by Tom Otterness'Free Money' by Tom Otterness
The young field of NoogaYorker Studies has been thrown into turmoil in recent weeks by an astonishing new field observation. As the world’s pre-eminent NoogaYorker researcher—OK, the only one—I am always on the lookout for more people like myself who have a foot in the two worlds of Chattanooga and New York City. It’s not enough simply to visit. There must be some kind of historic or (preferably) ongoing presence of roots in both places.
For example, since The Pulse’s inaugural NoogaYorker report last June, I have learned that Chattanoogan Christie Dillard has moved to New York for some indefinite period of time. For now at least, while her ultimate location is unknown, she is new NoogaYorker. And David and Mia Littlejohn have been identified as true bi-locational citizens, splitting their time between Chattanooga and Manhattan. These new reports are surely the tip of an iceberg that needs much more research, ideally well-funded by a generous foundation that appreciates the creation of new field of human inquiry.
But these sightings pale in comparison to the discovery of NoogaYorker art!
I was intrigued in 2010 to note the remarkable similarities between a nine-foot tall bronze sculpture in front of the Hunter Museum and dozens of smaller bronze sculptures—roughly 12 to 24 inches tall—that populate several subway platforms in the 14th Street-Eighth Avenue subway station in Manhattan.
The larger Chattanooga piece is called “Free Money” by Tom Otterness. It shows a vaguely humanoid cartoon couple dancing—is it a waltz or a tango?—on a giant bag of money.
Otterness also created more than 100 smaller figures in the New York subway that are clearly smaller versions of the same whimsical species. Some show similar money obsessions, sweeping up pennies or climbing on bags of loot. Some seem to be getting mugged by lobsters, beavers, an anthropomorphic telephone and one of those mythical subway alligators that want their money. Other pieces are more mysterious, like a pair of detached feet that look a bit like the giant Buddha feet that can be seen in Asia. The whole installation is called “Life Underground.”
That artistic connection, though interesting, did not in itself cross the threshold into NoogaYorker research. But my Spidey Sense—I mean, scientific curiosity—really started to tingle on a visit to the Nassau County Museum of Art in New York’s Long Island borough, where I found another edition of “Free Money!” This sculpture is a NoogaYorker!
It’s easy enough to understand a human moving to another city for a new job, but by what mechanism could an artistic creation live in two places?
I am, of course, aware that museums in two places could independently purchase identical sculptures from the same artist. But this overly mundane and entirely speculative hypothesis seems woefully inadequate to explain this amazing occurrence.
Does this discovery suggest free will on the part of bronze sculptures, for example? Or could these two sculptures have mated in some metallic ménage a quatre and left their little bronze offspring in the subway? (Growing up feral in the subway might account for the pair of bronze juvenile delinquents who are taking a crosscut saw to one of the columns supporting the station!)
No answers have yet presented themselves, but I am confident that further study will shed more light on this new aspect of ... the NoogaYorker.