Public forum continues conversation about “Pipe Theme in Red-Orange” controversy

Since August when Josefa Filkosky’s sculpture, “Pipe Theme in Red-Orange” located in front of Lynch Hall, was painted to a white to blue gradient, the Seton Hill University (SHU) community has been having an ongoing conversation.

By Chelsea Oliver

News Editor

Since August when Josefa Filkosky’s sculpture, “Pipe Theme in Red-Orange” located in front of Lynch Hall, was painted to a white to blue gradient, the Seton Hill University (SHU) community has been having an ongoing conversation.

With that conversation in mind, the Students in the Arts Association decided to host a public forum to discuss environmental art and the lingering questions of an artist’s intent, what role does an artist or author play in our relationship with their art and whether art changes the environment it’s put in or if the environment should change the art.

The panelists for the forum included SHU senior art students. Ashlan Luft, who spoke about artistic studio concerns and Tommy Caruso presented on ethical issues in the art world. Also involved were SHU alumni, Kathleen Mendus Dlugos, a professor of art at Westmoreland County Community College, Amber Morgan, who spoke about the care of collections and intellectual property issues and Victor Shocka, who spoke about the restoration for the sculpture. President JoAnne Boyle gave the only defending argument about why the sculpture was changed and the responses that the University has received since that change in August.

Luft started the conversation by talking about artistic intention and how students are talking about “Pipe Theme in Red-Orange” saying, “Students on campus are talking about it as, does it look better now or did it look better before. They are forgetting about what it means to paint over something that someone else already called their own.”

She continued by saying “We are taught to think about an artist’s thought process in creating a piece, to figure out what their intention was, but when you go to the piece now, it’s hard to think about those things because you look at the title and it’s “Pipe Theme in Red-Orange,” but then you look at the piece and it’s not the same as when the artist made it, so it’s hard to think about the decisions that were put in to making that piece.”

Throughout the forum, Luft’s ideas and concerns about artist’s intention and the integrity of art were echoed by the other panelists, Caruso said “How can we teach to keep the integrity of our art alive if there is a piece of work on campus that is titled “Pipe Theme in Red-Orange” but it’s painted blue?”

Dlugos also commented about artistic intention by focusing on the point of view of a former student of Filkosky and on the specific intention that she had in means of color choice for Pipe Theme,
“Her choice of warm colors was not by accident, it was to contrast the materials she worked with,” she said. “She was working with large, cold, hard metals which at the time were only being used by men, the warm colors were chosen for contrast.”

Morgan, speaking from the point of view of a museum registrar, said “The physical ownership of a piece of art does not mean you can do whatever you want to with it.”
While Morgan, Shocka, Luft, Caruso and Dlugos had the same opinion about what should be done to Filkosky’s piece, Boyle brought the opposing opinion in defense of the change made to sculpture.

Boyle added a question of her own, saying “To what extent does an artist or author claim parentage, ownership or rights over a work, once it has been released to the public…and then does the author or artist’s original intention matter?”

Boyle explained further why the piece was changed, saying “Last summer when our new medical school moved into the basement of Lynch, they asked permission to indicate their presence on campus with signage on the overhang on the building. We gave them permission and the sign went up in their very distinctive blue and silver school colors…and hardly had that new sign gone up, when I began to worry about the impact of the change in the environment on Pipe Theme. “

The sculpture that once used to dominate the entrance to Lynch had certainly lost its glow and it was not a prominent piece anymore.”

Boyle also mentioned that the first wave of responses that she heard from people after the sculpture was painted was positive and she was told how beautiful it looked and how some people never noticed the piece until now and even noted a check that came in the mail to SHU in support of the color change. But Boyle also added that it was not the intention to match the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) color scheme.

“To summarize, we painted the sculpture to give it new prominence,” said Boyle. “We had reactions, pro and con, but above all we’ve had conversations.”
Though the finalized plans are unknown, Filkosky’s “Pipe Theme in Red-Orange” is planned to be re-painted back to its original colors in the future.