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Tainted LOVE: Philadelphia’s Robert Indiana Sculpture Painted Incorrectly for Decades

For three decades, “LOVE” had been painted red, green, and blue, instead of red, green, and purple.

Robert Indiana poses with his “LOVE” statue in Philadelphia on June 10, 1976 (image courtesy Temple University archives)

Robert Indiana’s famed sculpture, “LOVE” (1976), will return to its home at Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Plaza, better known as LOVE Park, after two years away. It spent one year at a temporary site outside City Hall as the park closed for renovations, and another indoors to undergo restoration. When it returns on February 13 — just in time for those Valentine’s Day selfies! — locals may be surprised to notice something a little different. While “LOVE” has long been painted red, green, and blue, it will instead be red, green, and purple.

Detail of “LOVE” undergoing restoration (photo courtesy City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy)

Because that’s how Indiana intended it. For three decades, unbeknownst to most, “LOVE” had worn the wrong look. The City of Philadelphia, which owns the sculpture, itself only found out recently.

During the restoration process, Indiana’s representatives notified city officials of the piece’s original colors, which were confirmed by photographs in Temple University’s archives from 1976, when “LOVE” was installed — initially, on a long-term loan, for Philadelphia’s bicentennial; the city ended up purchasing it two years later.

It has since undergone two restorations — one for every decade since — a process that involves it getting a new paint job. The mistake of staining it blue was made early on.

“In 1988 when the sculpture was taken down to be restored, the color codes that the City had for the sculpture resulted in it being painted red, green, and blue,” Public Art Director Margot Berg told Hyperallergic. “The same color codes were used in ’98 as in ’88. The City believed that it had the correct color information for the sculpture. All of the photos and documentation on file showed the sculpture with the light blue color.”

It’s likely that the colors had faded over time, so when “LOVE” returned to the plaza after its first restoration, people didn’t notice the change in hues. As for Indiana, his thoughts on all this remain a mystery; his representatives did not respond to Hyperallergic’s inquiries into why this correction was not made earlier.

Indiana created numerous iterations of “LOVE,” but the Philadelphia sculpture is the only one that features purple. It’s a surprising revelation bound to only heighten anticipation for its return, which was pushed back from last summer to February, in part because of the park’s construction.

“LOVE” in transit (photo courtesy City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy)
Detail of “LOVE” undergoing restoration (photo courtesy City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy)
Detail of “LOVE” undergoing restoration (photo courtesy City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy)
Detail of “LOVE” undergoing restoration (photo courtesy City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy)
Detail of “LOVE” undergoing restoration (photo courtesy City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy)
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