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Editorial: When ‘love’ came to town

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“I thought love was more or less a giving thing – seems the more I gave, the less I got” – Neil Diamond, “I’m a Believer”

The Plaza “Love” sculpture brought 900 pounds and 20 feet of red-letter love to town, but in the end its sentiment went unrequited.

On display since its temporary exhibition began in September, the “Love” sculpture is the eye-catching, red 6-feet-high, four-letter word plunked down on the lawn in front of City Hall. You know, the City Hall that had been for nearly a century the monumental visual that greeted locals and visitors upon entrance to the city from Broadway – that is until the “Love” sculpture began stealing the show.

Designed by artist Laura Kimpton and sponsored by the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, the artwork has demonstrated the success of the museum’s temporary outdoor art program beyond its wildest dreams.

Surely every Valley resident has seen it and, by our estimate, every tourist since September has taken a selfie in front of it.

In fact, when community members reached out to the Index-Tribune to lobby us to conduct one of our online readers polls to gauge local interest in keeping the sculpture permanently, we thought it was a question that, at the very least, would stoke a community reaction. To that, we were not disappointed.

The poll asked – yes or no – whether the “Love” sculpture should be made permanent. In a little under two weeks, the poll received over 600 responses and more than a hundred written comments. The results were 58 percent “no” to 42 percent “yes.”

We have no reason to believe that anyone at the museum or City Hall is working on a plan to scrounge up the funds to buy the “Love” sculpture but, even if they were, the results of the poll might put the kibosh on that idea.

And so the exhibition’s scheduled removal this week is probably the end of “Love” as we know it.

But in commemoration of what’s been described as both “tacky” and “inspirational” by our poll respondents, and riffing on the lyrics to Nat King Cole’s 1965 song, “L-O-V-E,” here’s a farewell to the big, red sculpture that gave Sonoma plenty of love, and a central place in thousands of Instagram travel photos throughout the world.

“L-O-V-E” – lyrics by Bert Kaempfert, sung by Nat King Cole, further context by the Sonoma Index-Tribune:

“L, is for the way you look at me”: That would be from the Plaza sidewalk at the center of Napa Street, specifically via a 6-inch iPhone screen.

“O, is for the only one I see”: Yeah, that “one” you see would be your wife/husband/kids/girlfriend sitting awkwardly in the O letter as you take their picture, because no one ever – ever in the history of giant-word art – has done that before.

“V, is very, very extraordinary”: Actually, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about artist Laura Kimpton putting together a “love” sculpture.

She specializes in large-scale block letters of easily digestible, positive-sounding words like “love,” “believe” and “dream.” (She calls it her “Monumental Word” series.) She’s whipped out at least eight other “love” exhibits across the country in the last few years, which all look somewhat the same, though size varies, at such respected art Meccas as Burning Man and the Venetian Las Vegas.

“E, is even more than anyone that you adore”: Sadly, for the “Love” sculpture proponents, the local consensus is “less” not “more” when it comes to sculpture admirers. With nearly three-fifths of the community not feeling the “Love,” it’s a stretch to suggest Sonoma “adores” the piece.

Perhaps “puts up with it temporarily” is a better description.

And, ultimately, that’s not without precedent.

After all, Nat King Cole’s single, “L-O-V-E” peaked at 81 in the U.S. and didn’t even crack the U.K. top 100 before vanishing from the charts, and most people’s memories, forever.

Guess when it comes to giant block-letters, everyone’s a CRITIC.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.