Last fall workers planted a painted bronze heart sculpture by internationally known artist Jim Dine just steps from Stadium Way on one of Washington State University’s busiest intersections.
Painted bright blue, the sculpture stands about 12 feet high and is encrusted with a colorful array of objects-tools, shoes, sculpted heads, and much else.
While the local art community was congratulating itself on the significant Technicolor Heart acquisition, which was made a permanent campus fixture with money from the Washington Arts Commission, a smattering of students were railing against it.
In a letter to the editor at the Daily Evergreen last spring, one pharmacy student suggested it be tossed out during Cougar Pride Days. In an editorial in the same paper, student Christopher Del Beccaro opined against the big blue creation for six paragraphs. Then an anonymous party posted the heart for sale on E-bay for just over $15,000. The winning bidder was advised to come with a shovel in the dark of night and remove the piece. Then someone covered the bronze with garbage bags, someone else used a tarp and a padlock, and in late May, the worst-a message spray-painted on the sculpture itself: “Art?”
That’s not to say the heart didn’t have its defenders. In person and in print, students and faculty stepped up to argue that art isn’t about pleasing every eye, and to remove it would be censoring the artist.
As the center of controversy, the Dine work is in good company. The works of impressionists Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and Vincent Van Gogh were panned by their contemporaries at the Paris Salon des Artistes. In the 1950s Jackson Pollock was heavily criticized for his drip and splash style. And just this past year there was a wave of discontent surrounding Christo’s The Gates exhibit at Central Park.
The Dine heart has sparked a campus discussion about what art is and what its role should be, says Museum of Art director Chris Bruce, who hopes future students will come to value the artwork as well as the two other bronze sculptures that came to campus in 2004. “All things considered,” muses Bruce, “the heart did its job.”