Artists Go to Court to Restore Sculpture in Buffalo
                                                                Special to the New York Times

    BUFFALO, Dec. 1 -- On a rectangular strip of city-owned property downtown, half a sculpture called "Green Lightning" is still standing. The other half was dismantled two weeks ago by a city wrecking crew on the order of Mayor James D. Griffin, who deemed the artwork obscene only hours after it was unveiled.
    The main part of the sculpture which was two years in the making by Billie Lawless and Kathie Simonds, consists of four large rectangular panels made of clear plastic and decorated with painted cartoon figures. Over the panels, four rows of painted, tin stars dangles from a wire stretching in a 30-foot-high arc. In the foreground are 25-foot-high, green-painted, steel lightning bolts that shoot into the ground.

            A Matter of Interpretation

    None of those elements, however, are those the Mayor found objectionable. The trouble has to do with some neon figures that dance across the four panels.
    Mr. Lawless, 34 years old, a well-know local artist, has described the figures as abstracted dancing figures celebrating life."
    The police, many politicians and some residents say the neon figures clearly represent male genitals.
    "To my shock, I did not observe a multicolored artwork, but four neon objects anatomically resembling male genitals, " said Lt. William P. Conwall, a Buffalo police officer, in a report to superiors on complaints the police received at the unveiling Nov.15.
    Mr. Lawless says he does not deny that the figures can be interpreted that way But he said that he prefers to describe that interpretation as " a symbol burlesquing the myth of male dominance." He also said that other interpretations are possible."
    On Monday morning, the sculptors will ask a State Supreme Court justice to order the piece made whole again. They say they will argue that the City of Buffalo violated its contract to exhibit the piece downtown for one year.
    According to police reports, passers-by began to complain that the neon figures were obscene immediately upon the unveiling of the sculpture. Within 24 hours, city officials were threatening to dismantle it. The next day, Mr. Lawless stood on top of one of the panels to defend it against those threats.
    The two sides arrived at a compromise: the sculpture would be left standing and the neon would not be turned on until further discussion took place.
    Despite the agreement, a city crew sent by the mayor turned up at the site a few days later and began dismantling the structure. Mr. Lawless quickly obtained a court order and had the work stopped.
    In a preliminary hearing the next day, Justice Vincent . Doyle of the State Supreme Court criticized the Mayor's action as "abhorrent to my understanding  of the laws of this community." He ordered that the sculpture remain untouched by either side until both sides could present their arguments at Monday's hearing.
    Mr. Lawless, who conceived the idea of "Green Lightning" two years ago, said city officials had plenty of chances to reject the idea before it was unveiled. He said they saw a scale model of the sculpture, including the neon, several times.
    City officials disagree. David More, executive director of the Buffalo Arts Commission, said Mr. LAwless executed a "giant hoax" on the city by withholding the placement of some neon pieces until just before the sculpture was unveiled.
    No city funds were included in the $80,000 necessary for the construction and installation of the sculpture. The money came from private donors in the the Buffalo area.
    Mr. Lawless said that, whatever the outcome in Buffalo, he intends to send the sculpture on to other cities, as he has originally planned. It is scheduled to appear next year in Philadelphia.
    "Another city is going to embrace this sculpture, " Mr. Lawless said. "Maybe Buffalo's just not ready."