Color Correction

Art conservators discover that a famous sculpture has been painted the wrong color for decades

For nearly 41 years, artist Robert Indiana’s sculpture LOVE has stood in a park in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 830-pound aluminum artwork is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. So residents and city officials were shocked to learn that part of the sculpture had long been painted the wrong color—and that no one had noticed the mistake.

The discovery came about in 2017, when the city decided to repair and repaint the sculpture. A representative from Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy contacted Indiana’s studio to verify the sculpture’s exact colors. It turned out that LOVE was supposed to be red, green, and purple, not red, green, and blue. How did the mix-up happen?

The city of Philadelphia, which owns LOVE, first installed the sculpture in 1976. Archival photographs confirm that back then, the sides of the letters were purple. Then in 1988, the sculpture underwent its first restoration. LOVE returned with the outsides of its letters blue. The error went unnoticed. That’s likely  because the original purple color had faded over time to blue, which people had become accustomed to, says Margot Berg, the city’s public art director.

Indiana has created many versions of his LOVE sculpture, but only Philadelphia’s features the color purple. That makes it unique, says Berg. She decided to restore the work using the purple that Indiana originally intended—instead of the iconic blue that the public recognizes. Berg is worried that some people—especially Philadelphia locals—will be unhappy about this change.

Officials recently reinstalled the sculpture but the jury is still out about the newly restored color. What do you think?

Should iconic artworks be restored to the state in which the public knows them, or according to the artist’s original idea?

Indiana has created many versions of his LOVE sculpture, but only Philadelphia’s features the color purple. That makes it unique, says Berg. She decided to restore the work using the purple that Indiana originally intended—instead of the iconic blue that the public recognizes. Berg is worried that some people—especially Philadelphia locals—will be unhappy about this change.

Officials recently reinstalled the sculpture but the jury is still out about the newly restored color. 

What do you think?

Should iconic artworks be restored to the state in which the public knows them, or according to the artist’s original idea?

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