Thursday, February 18, 2016

Robert Indiana and LOVE

This statue sits next to a building in midtown Manhattan where the Significant Other used to have his office.

The first time I saw it, I said to myself, "Oh, it's one of those LOVE statues."

The last time I saw it, I said to myself, "Wow, it's still there."

The statue, one of about 20 in the US and many others -- in various languages -- around the world, may be the most iconic piece of pop art ever.  Some say that it is more recognizable than the "Mona Lisa."

"LOVE" is the work of Robert Indiana (he replaced his given surname with his state of birth), who rendered it originally on paper in 1966 or so.  Then the image was made into metal statues, a popular U.S. postage stamp and, unfortunately, a plethora of knock-off products from posters to paperweights to cufflinks.

While art critics weren't excited by  "LOVE," the public was.  Art writers ever since have lamented that Indiana did not copyright his image and so did not make really, really big money off the design.

In fact, "LOVE" captured the zeitgeist of the late 1960s:  love, peace, hippies, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," etc.  Some offshoots:

      --  Lore has it that seeing an exhibit of framed "LOVE" images caused
          a friend of John Lennon's to say, "You're surrounded by love," and
          Lennon to respond that "Love is all you need," which led to the
          famous Beatles song.  Brian Epstein, then the group's manager
          said, "It was an inspired song and they really wanted to give the
          world a message. . . . It is a clear message saying that love is
          everything. "
      -- Then came the execrable book, "Love Story," with an Indiana-
          inspired cover, that bequeathed us the line, "Love means never
          having to say you're sorry," and then a three-hankie movie that
          I doubt anybody has watched for 30 years or more.
      -- Many years later, the Lennon song was incorporated into one of the
          worst movies of the 21st century, "Love Actually."

We can't blame Indiana for all this twaddle, of course.  He was producing art before "LOVE" struck, and he has continued to produce art ever since.

Other Indiana Works

This pair of works from the early 1960s combine the last word his mother spoke before dying -- "Did you have something to eat?" and the fact of her death.

Then Indiana fashioned a lighted "EAT" sign that was posted either near or on the New York Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair.  People got the wrong message and followed the sign, expecting to find not Art but a restaurant.  Fair officials ordered it turned off.


These numerical metal sculptures from the early 1980s have been disaggregated and arranged in ones and twos, as well as issued in single-digit silk screen copies and other flat compendiums like the one below.  They're colorful, and any four-year-old would be delighted to see them.


Like other artists, Indiana revisits his themes.  The large statue below was made in 2000 and based on a design from 1972.


In 2007 or 2008, Indiana repurposed his most famous creation for a series of sculptures and posters that raised more than $1 million for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.


Indiana created the large silkscreen below in 2014, also in an apparent return to earlier themes.

Another piece from 2014

And from last year

In All

Who could be opposed to messages of love, art, hope or peace?  

I am not schooled in the visuals arts, but I find it hard to see Indiana's work as more than typography, occasionally with light sloganeering.  It makes my yesterday's post of Oldenburg/vonBruggen sculptures seem novel and fresh by comparison.

Like all art forms, I guess, pop has its limits.

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