The blue heart: Best art on campus

It’s hated and beloved. It’s been defiled and revered. It’s the big blue heart on campus.

Students voted the large blue heart statue by renowned artist Jim Dine on the corner of Stadium Way and Grimes Way as the Best Art on Campus. The 12-foot bright-blue, bronze and painted statue is officially titled “The Technicolor Heart,” but is known across campus simply as the big blue heart.

“When it first came on campus it was hated,” said Anna Maria Shannon, WSU Museum of Art associate director. “No, it wasn’t hated, it was reviled.”

Since it’s installation on campus in 2004, the statue has brought about a host of responses.

At one point, the statue was illegally put on sale on eBay. Another time it was covered in a tarp that read, “Return to sender,” Shannon said.  It’s been spray-painted black and has been the subject of many complaint phone calls. One time, someone stole a giant WSU cougar game-day banner and held it for ransom, demanding the removal of the heart for the banner’s return, she said.

But the Museum doesn’t receive as many complaints about it today, she said.

“I knew eventually the blue heart would become beloved on campus,” Shannon said.

The statue has seen good times too. Children take to it, she said. And in memorial of the Virginia Tech shootings, WSU’s sister school, students put tiny blue hearts around the statue. The Museum has even seen people get married by it.

Despite what many assume, “Technicolor Heart” doesn’t actually belong to WSU. The statue was purchased through the state’s Art in Public Place’s Program (AIPP), which requires that one-half of 1 percent of state-funded building projects be directed toward the acquisition of public artwork. Originally, it was brought to campus as part of an outdoor sculpture exhibit, said Chris Bruce, Museum director. But the Museum wanted to keep it on campus.

“We look for a piece that represents the artist really well,” Bruce said.

The heart is one of Dine’s signature images, along with tools and Venus figures, he said.

When the heart first arrived on campus, the WSU Museum staff expected it to be red, like Dine’s other heart pieces. However, as a surprise to all, the heart was cyan blue, said Debby Stinson, WSU Museum of Art PR and marketing director.

“It is so Jim Dine,” Shannon said. “It’s an embodiment of his heart.”

However, it’s not the color, but rather all the pieces attached to it that seem to upset people the most. The objects depicted on the heart, from tools to faces to Venus figures, are all related to Dine’s past or childhood, Shannon said. 

“When a familiar object is shown to you in a very unfamiliar way, I think it tends to put people back on their heels,” Shannon said.

However, when people understand that it represents love, they tend to see it differently, she said.

“It’s really a love letter to the Palouse and WSU,” Shannon said.

Before the heart was installed, there was no conversation about art on campus for 20 years, Shannon said.

“One of the things I love about the heart is it sparks controversy,” Stinson said. “Really good pieces of art bring up really strong emotions. It stirs up passion.”