Tom Otterness' Life Underground, a 2001 public artwork created for the 14th Street–Eighth Avenue New York City Subway station was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of New York Arts for Transit program for US$200,000 — one percent of the station's reconstruction budget. The installation is a series of whimsical miniature bronze sculptures depicting cartoon like characters in various bizarre situations, and other abstract sculptures, which are dispersed throughout the station platforms and passageways. Otterness said the subject of the work is "the impossibility of understanding life in New York" and describes the arrangement of the individual pieces as being “scattered in little surprises.” He became so obsessed with this project, that he delivered more than four times the amount of artwork he was originally commissioned to produce. His wife finally made him stop expanding the collection by imploring him to stop "giving away our daughter's whole inheritance." The complete series encompasses more than 100 individual pieces. Many of the figures have moneybag heads, and Otterness credits 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast as his inspiration for these. The works were put on public display in 1996 on the southeast corner of Central Park at Fifth Avenue prior to its installation originally scheduled for 1998. The entire project took 10 years from commissioning to the final completion of the installation.
Kansas-born New York City-based artist Tom Otterness has created a
cast of playful bronze characters that can be found all over the city
as well as throughout the country and in Europe. In 2000, he added Time and Money to the Hilton Times Square. In 2001, he installed his massive Life Underground in the 14th Street-8th Avenue Subway station. In 2005, he installed The Marriage of Money and Real Estate off Roosevelt Island. And his The Real World attracts the fancy of children in Battery Park City.