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Robert Indiana. LOVE

[12 Jun 2018]

« I am one of those young painters who turned to trivial sources: Coca-Cola, sodas, supermarkets, highway signs. They attract the eye… they pop (Indiana, 1963).

HOPE, LOVE, ART, EAT …. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ….

Robert Indiana, who died in May at the age of 89, is sometimes described as a lexical and numeral artist. True… his works contain lots of words and numbers; but the artistic vocabulary of the self-proclaimed “American painter of signs” is also composed of objects and geometrical shapes.

Born Robert Clark in 1928 in New Castle, he adopted the name Robert INDIANA in tribute to the State of Indiana where he enjoyed a happy childhood marked by incessant road-trips with his parents (21 moves before the age of 17). After a three-year stint in the US Air Force, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1949, the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture (1953) and Edinburgh College of Art (1953-54). After a brief trip to Europe, he returned to the United States in 1954, choosing New York rather than Chicago. In New York, Robert Indiana effectively participated in the birth of Pop Art, drawing his material from popular culture, advertising imagery and the symbolism of road signs (childhood memories). Over six decades of creation, Robert Indiana explored the American identity, dissecting its language, but infusing his works with a political and poetic dimension. Although its creator is no longer with us, his famous LOVE sculpture, reproduced in all sizes and colours and increasingly seen in public and private spaces (not to mention auction sales) is very unlikely to be forgotten… a sort of everlasting symbol in four letters.

LOVE… The ultimate symbol

With its Italic “O” (about to fall… fall in love)… Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE artwork has not only become one of the emblems of Pop Art; it has literally spread around the entire planet like a magic axiom, a logo, a battle cry… exactly as the artist himself hoped it would. LOVE is a typographic work whose letters LO are located above the letters VE. With this simple word, the artist conveyed several layers of meaning, both autobiographical and political. The choice of the original colors (blue, green, red) is apparently a direct tribute to his father who worked in a Phillips 66 gas station during the American Great Depression of the 1930s. As for the word LOVE, it is a reference to the religious context of his childhood. The Christian Science church he attended with his mother clearly promulgated the message God is Love” which prompted Indiana’s appropriation “Love is God. For more than half a century his LOVE has been spreading around the world. It started with a widely circulated greeting card designed for the prestigious New York MoMA in 1965. The following year the LOVE series was exhibited at the Stable Gallery in New York and introduced into the highly prestigious circuit of the American Contemporary art market. It rapidly became one of the most popular artworks of the 20th century and an icon of a whole generation that opposed the Vietnam War. In 1970, the LOVE image was widely circulated on the cover of Erich Segal’s book, Love Story. Three years later, the US Postal Service printed stamps with the LOVE symbol for Valentines Day. The initiative was an unprecedented success: more than 300 million stamps were sold. From postage stamps to monumental sculptures… the work has been reproduced in countless formats by its creator and parodied by countless others in numerous languages and countries. Through obsessive repetition of the idea, Indiana hoped to inspire love itself… flooding the world with his ‘formula’.

Some find it regrettable that the proliferation and popularity of LOVE has overshadowed the rest of his work, including his earlier creations. It is true that his auction market is dominated by the work. In the first six months of 2018, about sixty LOVE works were offered at auction, roughly half the total number of Indiana works offered during this period (all themes combined). The richest collectors are willing to pay more than $2 million for a LOVE canvas or sculpture. On 12 May 2011, a painted aluminium sculpture entitled Love Red-Blue (one of 3) fetched a record price of over $4 million at Christie’s New York. However, a wide range of different media and editions gives smaller-budget collectors access to the work: between $4,000 and $6,000 for a signed silkscreen print (200 copies) and around $300 for a unsigned silkscreen from a substantially larger edition. LOVE continues its distribution through auction houses around the world, from the United States to the UK, via Turkey, France, Belgium, Austria, Italy and Germany. The thirst for love seems unquenchable…

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