Prolific throughout the 1960s, the artist, who was born Robert Clark and later took the name of his native state as his own, is widely remembered as the creator of the quadrangular LOVE design — four stacked letters and a tilted “O” — that has become iconic.
Relatives and friends had reportedly been unable to reach him recently, but it wasn’t entirely a surprise: the artist had been reclusive for decades, ever since he decamped from the New York art scene after becoming upset he was seen as a kind of “one hit wonder.”
Many of Indiana’s other works also feature bold, short words in large typeface — a 2013 retrospective at the Whitney Museum in NYC showed off several of them — but there’s no doubt LOVE is the most recognizable. Along with cards, paintings and a popular U.S. postage stamp, the design informs dozens of sculptures around the world, including the one that inspired the name of Philadelphia’s LOVE Park.
Although he himself created many of the largerscale and well-known works, there were also hundreds or thousands of knockoffs — something that became the subject of many lawsuits, including one filed the day before he died.
Not all the copycats were acting maliciously. There was a widespread — if erroneous — belief that the design was in the public domain.
That’s what the City of Philadelphia thought when it ordered up a series of commemorative keepsakes fashioned after the sculpture last year. Fashioned out of granite from the original LOVE Park basin, the mementos were pulled from sale at literally the last minute over copyright concerns, leaving many who’d waited in line on the day before Thanksgiving 2017 empty-handed and disappointed.
But the history of the LOVE sculpture in Philly starts way before that, more than four decades ago.
The U.S. Postal Service chooses the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of art to unveil the first 8-cent LOVE stamp.
The sculpture is placed at JFK Plaza (which will eventually become known as “LOVE Park”) as a temporary installation for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration.
It remains there on “extended loan” from Indiana for two years, but when the city doesn’t move to purchase it, his gallery takes it back.
To satisfy public outcry and in the interest of public art, Eugene “Fitz” Dixon, then-chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission, purchases the sculpture for $35,000 and returns it to LOVE Park.
After a decade, the 12-year-old sculpture is removed for restoration — and given the wrong coat of paint.
Apparently, the people in charge of refreshing the statue misinterpret the “paint codes” from the artist (or his representative), and instead of red, green and purple, LOVE comes back in red, green and blue. Nobody notices, understandable since those are the same colors it wears on the famous postage stamp.
A second restoration follows the same erroneous codes, and the sculpture again gleams red, green and blue in Center City.
That same year, a second LOVE sculpture appears on the grounds of the University of Pennsylvania. Students quoted by the school newspaper say they find it “tacky” and “a copy of what’s downtown…disgusting.” Attitudes eventually shifted, and the sculpture on Penn’s campus remains to this day.
Plans are presented for an overhaul of LOVE Park, and the sculpture is relocated to Dilworth Park nearby.
Word gets out that the original design for the sculpture actually included purple, not blue. People in Philly freak out a little.
The city announces it will sell granite mementos made from the skateboard-popular basin of the original LOVE Park design, each costing $50 and each bearing a likeness of Indiana’s sculpture.
But it appears Indiana had never been consulted about the production of the keepsakes, of which only 250 were created. To the disappointment of hundreds who lined up to buy the slabs, this copyright issue has still not been settled, and the keepsakes have not yet been released for sale.
The LOVE sculpture returns from its renovations with a shiny new coat of paint, and is led on a mini parade around the Ben Franklin Parkway before being installed on a new pedestal at the totally redesigned plaza that has taken its name.
Despite widespread dismay over the park’s new design — including some pointed criticism over the sculpture’s base no longer being trapezoidal, so Philly’s version is no longer as unique as it once was — people flock to the LOVE sculpture and celebrate its return.