When it comes to controversial Buffalo events, Green Lightning has a place at the highest rung of the ladder. Green Lightning is the sculpture that was created by artist Billie Lawless, and was dismantled by the Griffin administration almost as quickly as it was erected. The Coney Island-esque piece was not considered controversial until it was illuminated at a public unveiling in 1984. It was then realized that the work of art, which had originally been commissioned for ArtPark, boasted phallic neon dancing elements (sporting top hats and canes for good measure).
Over the past couple of years I have been in communication with Lawless regarding what it would take to get Green Lightning back to Buffalo. For some people, the sculpture is exactly where it belongs – in the possession of Lawless who now resides in Cleveland. For others, such as my friend Lesley Horowitz (photographer who lives in Buffalo and NYC), the sculpture represents a dark time in Buffalo when everything appeared to be bleak. According to Lesley, there were no jobs and her friends had all moved away. The dismantling of the sculpture (without due process) took place shortly after she packed her bags, hopped on a train heading to NYC, and never looked back.
When I recently met up with Lesley, I told her about my communications with Lawless, and she immediately jumped onboard with the notion that the piece should be returned home to Buffalo. In fact, Lesley herself is now in the midst of a full time transition back to Buffalo after being completely absent for 26 years.
After I learned that Lesley was keen on seeing the return of the sculpture, I began to make a couple of phone calls to other friends in Buffalo’s art scene. Without hesitation, these people told me that they would be happy to help – as if to right a wrong, and heal a wound that still seems fresh to this day. But it was Lesley who continued to push the envelope. She felt that it was perfect time, coinciding with Buffalo’s rebirth, to bring the Lawless creation back into the fold. “Regardless of how one feels about the actual artwork, this was a significant event,” says Horowitz. “Fraught with scandal, politics and polarizing discussion around the ideas of public sculpture. With the new re-energized focus on public art in Buffalo, it’s worthy of its place as a part of the continuum of the art history of this city.”
30 years after Green Lightning was unjustly butchered in the dark of night by the City of Buffalo, with Lawless packing his own bags and heading out the door for greener pastures, there are some who are calling for the sculpture’s return. Over time I have learned that it’s going to be an uphill battle, primarily to find a local art institution that is willing to rally for the cause (there is still potential for public and political repercussions). There’s also the financial aspect – a major crowdfunding effort would be needed in order to pull this off. And finally, the thought is that the sculpture would need to be situated inside a public building so that ongoing maintenance costs on the piece would be easier to deal with. Plus, its original location at the Elm-Oak arterial is now the Catholic Health Administrative Center, and I can’t imagine Canalside or Larkinville (for example) jumping onboard with this one.
Finding an indoor spot to host Green Lightning is not worrisome. Raising the money could be tough, but it’s worth a shot – nothing ventured, nothing gained. What we really want to know is, “Do you think that Buffalo is ready for the return of Green Lightning, and would you be willing to support the effort if we were to undertake this endeavor?”