LOVE lives on. The author of the iconic Pop Art masterpiece passed away
Robert Indiana, the artist who created one of the most iconic artworks of the 1960s and 1970s, died at the age of 89. The main question concerns the artist’s estate, as the artist wanted to donate his archive to the Farnsworth Museum in Maine, but at the same time the Morgan Art Foundation filed a lawsuit over Indiana’s legacy in a Manhattan court.
Pop artist Robert Indiana, best known for his 1960s «LOVE» series, died at his secluded island home off the Maine coast having never found the type of lasting love that was celebrated by thousands through his iconic work.
The artist’s death came the day after a lawsuit was filed over his legacy in a Manhattan court by the Morgan Art Foundation, Indiana’s representative for many years. It claims that his current caretaker and assistant, Jamie Thomas, and an art publisher, Michael McKenzie, isolated the artist from friends and produced dubious works in his name over the past two years. Even friends had expressed concern for his well-being because the reclusive artist had not been heard from for some time.
Thomas and McKenzie have said they were fulfilling Indiana’s wishes in keeping visitors away and he authorized all new works that they created. It’s interesting to know what will happen to the artist’s estate, including his meticulously kept archive. The artist had no family and wished to donate all his collection to the Farnsworth Museum in Maine. «They have been kinder to me than anybody in New York," he said.
Robert Indiana with his 'LOVE' sculpture in Central Park, New York City in 1971
Indiana, who was born Robert Clark, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York City, where he began to make his mark in the late 1950s. There he became part of a new generation of Pop artists, including Andy Warhol, who created bold, colorful art from everyday items. Left behind the art scene in New York, he retreated in 1978 to Maine, living on Vinalhaven.
He told The Associated Press in 2009 that he moved to his house — which a benefactor bought for him — when he needed a place to go after his lease ran out on his five-story studio and gallery in the Bowery section of New York City.
His desire for solitude was legendary.
One of the leading figures of the Pop Art movement, Indiana worked mostly as a painter and sculptor, and his most famous work appeared in both media. In the early 1960s, he depicted the word 'love" in capital letters arranged in a square, with the 'O' tilted at an angle.
LOVE (1976) by Robert Indiana
The word 'love' became one of the most iconic artworks of the 1960s and 1970s and was reproduced on everything from T-shirts to a popular postage stamp. In 1973, the US Postal Service printed more than 300 million stamps.
Indiana’s 1966 pop masterpiece Love originally said Fuck. Even after he changed it to the more heartwarming and universally acceptable word — he would spend the rest of his life turning it into sculptures and even adapting it to Hope to support Barack Obama in 2008 — there was a secret meaning to this artwork.
Left: Robert Indiana’s «Love» postage stamp, issued in 1973.
Indiana created the first steel sculpture of the image in 1970 and donated it to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in his native state. Another LOVE sculpture was later installed on a plaza in downtown Philadelphia, where it remains today.
Philadelphia has had a long «love affair» with Indiana’s artwork. The monumental LOVE sculpture was first installed in John F. Kennedy Plaza in 1976 for the Bicentennial celebration. When his gallery was unable to arrange a purchase by the city, LOVE was removed and brought to New York for consideration by a potential buyer.
LOVE is one of three outdoor sculptures by the artist in Philadelphia. Another version is located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, and AMOR («Love» in Spanish) was brought to the City by aPA and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and acquired in 2015 for nearby Sister Cities Park. LOVE sculptures are found worldwide in a variety of media and languages.
Left: Robert Indiana’s «Love» sculpture in downtown Philadelphia
Robert Indiana. Amor, 1998; installed 2015; relocated 2016.
LOCATION: Sister Cities Park, 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Photo Kasey McCarver © 2018 for the Association for Public Art
LOVE, however, is special to Philadelphia. This LOVE is a higher LOVE, elevated on a 7-foot base, and situated at one end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with a view of the grand boulevard behind it. The recent conservation also returns Philadelphia’s LOVE to its original color scheme, making it the only cast of LOVE with a unique red, green, and purple combination.
«It would be my intention that everybody should have love,
and there are a lot of people in the world.»
said Indiana in a 2009 interview
Indiana’s original print uses three colours. The word Love, with the O falling on its side, is inscribed in fiery red capitals against planes of blue and green. Why blue and green? The answer is obvious when you know that Indiana was the lover of the abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly. Love was created as Indiana’s relationship with Kelly ended.
Blue and green — this precise blue, this exact green — were Kelly’s most recognisable colours, beautifully combined in many of his most uplifting works. His 1963 painting Blue Green Red also has the third colour of Indiana’s print.
Ellsworth Kelly. Blue Green Red, 1963. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Indiana was fascinated by the artistic properties of words. The glib description of pop artist doesn’t quite do him credit. He was part of a generation whose subtle experiments pointed not just to pop but also to conceptualism. Indiana selected and isolated words such as Eat and Die. The stark word-images he created in the early 1960s, were rooted in the Americana of neon signs and giant hoardings. Indiana also recognised that he was working in an older tradition of American art. In his 1963 painting «The Figure Five», he pays homage to Charles Demuth’s 1928 painting «I saw the figure Five in Gold».
Robert Indiana (b. 1928), Decade: Self-portrait 1961, 1972-77. Oil on canvas
The Figure Five at the 2013 Whitney retrospective Robert Indiana: Beyond Love. Photograph: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images
In 2018, there was installation featuring Robert Indiana’s ONE through ZERO at Paul Kasmin Gallery.
In the end, Indiana found love through his art and adoration from the public. But real love, Indiana believed, was a «dangerous commodity» whose embers die out and create disappointment, said Barbara Haskell, curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
«On one hand he accepted that love became a symbol that brought him international renown. But for him love also has this element fragility and precariousness,» she said.
Artist Robert Indiana in front of a painting from his LOVE series at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art Lauren Casselberry—AP/REX/Shutterstock
Based on materials from TheGuardian, Art Newspaper, The Time.