What followed when Ryan Du Val plucked an image the of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece of the Internet and painted it on his Northwestern University dorm-room ceiling might be likened to The Agony and the Ecstasy as updated for The WB. The 1965 movie showdown between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II was replayed when the sophomore’s whimsical take–God’s finger points at a smoke detector, and a disco ball serves as Adam’s fig leaf–sent the administration into a tizzy. “We’re there to make sure the ceiling’s off-white, by golly!” Northwestern spokesman Alan Cubbage told PEOPLE.
But the irrepressible Du Val, 20, pleaded that the mural be allowed to stay until the end of the school year. In a letter to the president of the Chicago-area university, the former Los Altos, Calif., Eagle Scout says he argued “something about this being a liberal arts institution that should support this type of expression.” Du Val’s father, Ron, 56, an aerospace engineer (his mother, Gay, 50, is a homemaker) said the work is typical of his son: “When he does a project, he goes into it in detail.”
Du Val, who isn’t even an art major (he studies computer science and music, plays several instruments in a band and hopes to work in the music industry), decided his work-in-progress needed one more modern touch: a clever lawyer. He found one in Patsy Felch, who took the case pro bono and dug out a 1990 federal law protecting artists’ work. Northwestern, anxious over bad publicity and hoping to stay out of court, agreed to a compromise in December: The mural stays until June, when Ryan must pay for a whitewash. “Wow, the legal system really works,” said the ever-chipper Du Val. Shrugged administrator Cubbage: “We decided not to make a federal case of this.”