Monday, March 25, 2013

Location Two: Robert Indiana's LOVE Sculpture

One of the most iconic images the city of Philadelphia has to offer is the iconic LOVE sculpture, with its bold red letters and tilted “O,” located in Center City's JFK Plaza. What better way to make a statement in the “City of Brotherly Love” than blowing up a sculpture that shares part of its namesake?

Contrary to popular belief, Philadelphia's LOVE sculpture is not the original. The original sculpture of the same title was designed by American artist Robert Indiana as a Christmas card for the Museum of Modern Art and has been on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art since 1970.

The plaza, originally designed to cover an underground parking lot, was without art for a few years after its completion in 1965. It was dedicated to President John F. Kennedy in 1967 and received its LOVE sculpture in 1976 as part of the celebration of the United States' bicentennial.

Interestingly enough, the sculpture was never intended to remain in the plaza and was removed two years later in 1978. Philadelphia had grown attached to the sculpture, however, and there was an outcry for its return.1 (Photo of Urban Archives article in citations) 

JFK Plaza without its tell-tale sculpture after its removal in 1978, courtesy of Temple University Urban Archives.

The city finally received its wish when the Chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission, F. Eugene Dixon Jr., purchased the sculpture and personally returned it to the plaza, where it has remained since.2

Since its installation in Philadelphia, Indiana's LOVE has grown into a global sensation. In an interview with international art website ArtInfo, the talented Indiana proclaimed himself to be a painter first and a sculptor second.3 This is somewhat surprising, considering the fact that there are 39 known sculptures scattered across three continents—the United States, Europe, and Asia—as well as two sculptures in additional languages—Italian and Hebrew.

Even if he considers himself to be a painter first and foremost, the 84-year-old Indiana confessed in that same interview that it is his goal to erect a LOVE sculpture in every city in the United States.4

In Philadelphia, Indiana's LOVE has never been anything short of a smashing success. It has always been the main draw for JFK Plaza, otherwise known as a dank space covering an underground parking garage that is a popular hangout for skateboarders en masse.

The sculpture has all but taken over the plaza. In fact, throughout most of the city, the area is more commonly referred to as “Love Park,” as opposed to its official name, JFK Plaza. The general consensus among locals and tourists alike is that the LOVE sculpture is a part of Philadelphia and a must-visit. Using the popular review website Yelp, it is difficult to find a negative review.5

Philadelphia's LOVE sculpture after being re-installed, courtesy of Temple University's Urban Archives.

Philadelphia's LOVE sculpture has not received an overly abundant amount of exposure in major feature films, but has had some interesting “screen time,” including the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater II.6

It has certainly never been exposed to film in a way that public art is featured in Fight Club. In that film, public art is used to make a statement; send a message. In my experience, public art in films is almost never used to destroy, but to build up.

Though they are sculptures on a much grander stage, pieces like the Statue of Liberty and William Penn are placed in films because they are recognizable. They are used to establish location and work because of their popularity and recognition. “Lady Liberty” is a symbol of New York, grandeur, and freedom. Penn is synonymous with Philadelphia.

When public art is shown in films, this is the way that it is primarily used. That is what makes David Fincher's use of public art in Fight Club so interesting. He doesn't just go against the book. He basically throws it out the window.

I would follow in Fincher's footsteps. Philadelphia's LOVE sculpture is so engraved in its history that if you wanted to make a statement, this is the way that it would happen. It would strike people deep within their core emotionally, not only because of the obvious ramifications, but because of the metaphorical implications as well.

Destroying a sculpture that literally says “love” in the “City of Brotherly Love” would be a very powerful metaphor. It could mean a loss of life or passion. It could show that something is missing or fleeting from the city. The truth is that this would be an action that could be interpreted in and endless number of ways, dependent upon a personal attachment.

Indiana's LOVE sculpture is known around the world, but perhaps most meaningful in the city of Philadelphia. If I were looking to make a statement, this would be the sculpture that had to go.


Works Cited
1 Unknown (Philadelphia), "LOVE is Coming Back, But It's a Lot Cheaper," April 29, 1978.
2 Unknown (Philadelphia), "LOVE is Coming Back, But It's a Lot Cheaper," April 29, 1978.
3 Halperin, Julia. "Pop Art Icon Robert Indiana Talks Hope, Love, and Shepard Fairey | Artinfo." Artinfo | The Premier Global Online Destination for Art and Culture. (accessed March 26, 2013).
4 Halperin, Julia. "Pop Art Icon Robert Indiana Talks Hope, Love, and Shepard Fairey | Artinfo." Artinfo | The Premier Global Online Destination for Art and Culture. (accessed March 26, 2013).
5 "LOVE Park Frequently Asked Questions." (accessed March 26, 2013).
6 "Love Park." Yelp. (accessed March 23, 2013).

Urban Archives Article