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A central figure in the US art scene since the 1960s, Robert Indiana has played a pivotal role in the evolution of assemblage art, hard-edge painting and Pop art. A self-proclaimed
“American painter of signs,” Indiana’s work explored American identity, personal history
and the power of abstraction and language.
Indiana passed away in May 2018. Even in his final years, he was invited to meet Obama at
the White House, and honoured with a retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum of
American Art in 2013. Today, his legacy continues to resonate in the work of many
contemporary artists whose work focuses on the written word.
Robert Indiana art has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the
world, and still resides in the permanent collections of important museums such as the
Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Museum
of American Art in Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
His work can also be seen internationally at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, the
Stedelijk van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Netherlands, the Museum Ludwig in Vienna,
Austria, the Shanghai Art Museum in China, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana in 1928. Adopted as an infant,
he spent his childhood moving frequently throughout his home state.
His artistic talent was noticed at an early age by a first grade teacher, and in 1942 Indiana
moved to Indianapolis to attend Arsenal Technical High School, known for its strong arts
curriculum. He then spent three years in the US Air Force before studying at the Art Institute
of Chicago, the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting in Maine, and the Edinburgh
College of Art in Scotland.
In 1956, two years after moving to New York, Indiana took up residence in Coenties Slip,
home to a community of artists that later included Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist and Jack
Youngerman. Indiana and his fellow artists scavenged nearby abandoned warehouses for
materials, creating sculptural assemblages from remnants of the shipping trade.
Robert Indiana art became widely known when the Museum of Modern Art acquired The
American Dream in 1961. This was the first in a series of paintings exploring the illusory
American Dream, and key to Indiana becoming a significant member in the new generation
of Pop artists who were eclipsing the prominent painters of the New York School.
However, Indiana challenged certain Pop art tropes by addressing important social and
political issues, and using historical and literary references within his works.
“I was the least Pop of all the Pop artists.” – Robert Indiana
Love is a subject of great significance both for Robert Indiana, and for the 60s
counterculture which was being fuelled by the Vietnam war and US civil rights movement.
Initially experimenting with a composition of stacked letters in a series of 1964 rubbings,
Robert Indiana turned this inventive design into different hard-edged colour variations on
He then produced rough wooden sculptures adorned with stencilled letters and numbers.
The graphics mimicked advertising posters and street signs of the time, and quickly became
a key feature in his work.
1966 marked a turning point in Indiana’s career with the success of his LOVE image, which
had been selected for the Museum of Modern Art’s Christmas Card in 1965. The image
quickly permeated wider popular culture, and became a symbol of the “Love Generation.”
“Some people like to paint trees. I like to paint love.” – Robert Indiana
This led to the image appearing on a best-selling United States Postal Service stamp and
reproduced on countless unauthorised products, and still remains iconic to this day.
Indiana’s LOVE sculpture was later translated into AHAVA (Hebrew) and AMOR (Spanish),
proof of its universal message.
In 2008, he created a corresponding HOPE image, and donated all proceeds to Democrat
Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, raising more than $1 million. Indiana himself has
called HOPE “love’s close relative.”
“Pop art is the American Dream, optimistic, generous, and naïve!” – Robert Indiana
In addition to being a painter and sculptor, Indiana has created a significant number of
prints, among them the Numbers Portfolio (1968), a collaboration with the poet Robert
Creeley, as well as many other works of graphic art, including the poster for the opening of
the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center (1964), and the poster for the opening
exhibition of the Hirshhorn Museum of Art (1974).
Robert Indiana has also created other unique projects, such as the design for a basketball
court at the Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center Arena in 1977, and the stage sets and
costumes for an opera at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1967.