“LOVE” is in the air and outside J.R. Howard

With its vibrant primary color scheme, “LOVE” commands the attention of passersby. Photo by Tyler Short

The “LOVE” sculpture at Lewis & Clark stands eight feet long, eight feet high and four feet wide and is located directly to the right of the entrance of J.R. Howard Hall. Robert Indiana is the artist behind this iconic pop art sculpture as well as its variations, which are all part  of a larger series called “LOVE.” President and CEO of Probity International Corp Robert Zarnegin is the collector of the sculpture and has loaned the piece to LC through at least Thanksgiving. Elizabeth Leach from the Elizabeth Leach Gallery, in downtown Portland, reached out to the campus and facilitated this connection. 

For obvious reasons, many associate “LOVE” with romance, yet its origins are actually deeply religious. While growing up, Indiana was raised under the Christian denomination of the Church of Christ, Scientist. From a very early age, Indiana was taught to associate love with God and his religious upbringing. In an interview in 1979, he discussed how the very simple ornamentation of the Christ, Scientist’s churches was a primary source of inspiration for the sculpture. 

“Only one thing appears in a Christian Science church, and that’s a small, very tasteful inscription in gold, usually, over the platform where the readers conduct the service,” Indiana said on his website “And that inscription is God Is Love.” 

The hypervisibility of this sculpture makes it a part of every student’s day. Benji Bromberg ’22 finds meaning through the versatile possibilities of interpretation that “LOVE” presents. 

“I was always a big Beatles fan when I was growing up, so when I see it I think it is a similar font to ‘All You Need Is Love’ in the Yellow Submarine movie,” Bromberg said. “It really stands out and makes me excited to be here. It does not disrupt anything and it’s always nice to see (it) coming in and out of Howard.” 

The status of “LOVE” transcends the niche and sometimes inaccessible art world, allowing students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds to appreciate it. Associate Professor of Art and Studio  and Head of Sculpture Jess Perlitz was one of five who decided where to place the sculpture.

“This piece is so iconic and is something instantly recognizable — it allows you to be placed in a much larger conversation,” Perlitz said. “We get very siloed in our areas, and it’s important that it’s on the main walkway and that it is oriented for the students. It would have had a very different meaning if it was oriented for the administrative offices or the president.” 

The sculpture’s front and back faces are red, while its interior and exterior faces are blue. It stands in front of eight trees, creating a stark contrast between its saturated luminous colors and the natural green backdrop that imbues the piece with a violent call for attention. No matter where one is oriented in relation to it, “LOVE” seizes the gaze. 

“It’s a really great message to have on campus and the other day, when the (Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students) Robin (Homes-Sullivan) gave everybody donuts in front of the sculpture, was a really good collaboration with the love and the student body,” Leo Crespo-Cervantes ’23 said. 

Indiana plays with the abstract word “love” in this iconic piece through its varying connotations, allowing every observer to create their own understandings through their associations with the word. Perhaps this is representative of the very nature of love, that the idea of it varies from person to person. In this paradoxical sense, its message is universal. With its wide-reaching theme and placement on a main part of campus, this piece is perfect for community building. Love may not be immediately associated with community for all people at LC, but this sculpture attempts to change that, or at least challenge it.

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