Is the “LOVE” statue on campus the original?

Dear Benny:
During the recent commencement celebrations it was a delight to see students posing for pictures with their friends and families in front of the colorful “LOVE” statue in College Green. I know the sculpture on campus is similar to the one located at Love Park in Center City and my question is: which of the two is the original?
—True “LOVE”

Dear True:
The iconic 1966 “LOVE” sculpture by Robert Indiana is, indeed, a favorite photo backdrop for campus visitors. It was given to Penn in 1998 as a gift from Jeffrey J. and Sivia Loria, and when it was installed in the triangular patch of green at 36th Street and Locust Walk known as Blanche Levy Park, it replaced a sculpture called “We Lost” by artist Tony Smith, now in storage.

A polychromed aluminum sculpture that weighs about 500 pounds, the “LOVE” we have at Penn is one of several variations of the sculpture that Indiana created between 1966 and 1998. According to several published biographies of the artist, Indiana originally created the design with the tilted letter “O” in 1964 for a Christmas card for the Museum of Modern Art. The first “LOVE” sculpture is on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, but Indiana (the artist, not the state) subsequently made many versions of the sculpture. It didn’t take long for “LOVE” to become an American pop-culture icon. Since its introduction, many copies, parodies and variations of the original sculpture have appeared in Hollywood movies, and on book covers, television shows and album covers. In 1973, the United States Post Office issued an eight-cent stamp featuring the “LOVE” design and it became a long-time bestseller.

In addition to the sculpture on campus and the one in Center City, “LOVE” can be found in (among other places) New York, Kansas and Utah, as well as Japan, Spain, China and Kyrgyzstan. There is also a version showing the word in Italian (AMOR) in Milan, and one in Hebrew (AHAVA) in Jerusalem.

Got a question for Benny? Send it via e-mail to current@pobox.upenn.edu or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106.

Originally published on June 10, 2010