The Value of the Works of Robert Indiana
American painter and sculptor Robert Indiana took his inspiration from commercial signs, claiming, “There are more signs than trees in America. There are more signs than leaves. So I think of myself as a painter of American landscape.”
Although difficult to categorize, Indiana’s work was closely affiliated with the Pop Art movement of the 1960s. In his paintings, sculptures, and prints, he drew inspiration from the words and numbers of myriad signs, including the Phillips 66 gas station logo and the American “Yield” traffic sign. He was perhaps most famous for his “LOVE” paintings and sculptures, first produced in the 1960s.
The Life of Robert Indiana
Robert Indiana was born “Robert Earl Clark” on September 13, 1928, in New Castle, Indiana. He was adopted as an infant and raised as a Christian Scientist. His family struggled with financial instability, which heightened when his parents divorced when the artist was nine years old. He subsequently lived with his mother, who was a perpetual wanderer; by the time he was seventeen, they had moved twenty-one times. As a teenager, he relocated to Indianapolis to live with his father so he could attend high school, where he would graduate as valedictorian of his class.
In 1946, he turned down art school attendance to enlist in the Air Force. After serving three years, Indiana left the Air Force and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1949–1953, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in 1953, and Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art in 1953 and 1954 before graduating with his BFA.
Indiana moved to New York City in 1954, meeting artists such as Jack Youngerman, Agnes Martin, and Cy Twombly, with whom he shared a studio for a time. He supported himself with various odd jobs, including working at an art supply store, where he met artist Ellsworth Kelly, who suggested Indiana rent a loft in Coenties Slip in Manhattan, an area of great artistic activity at the time. In 1958, he changed his last name from Clark to Indiana in homage to his home state.
In the 1960s, he began creating one-word paintings and met Andy Warhol and other influential artists. Although this approach led some to associate him with the Pop Art movement, he did not particularly identify with the group, even after he was included in one of Warhol’s films. He distinguished himself from the movement by addressing autobiographical and political themes in his work, rather than simply pop culture.
Indiana’s career took off in the early 1960s after Alfred H. Barr, Jr., bought his work The American Dream, 1 for the Museum of Modern Art. In 1965, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned Indiana to design a Christmas card, for which he created a motif with the word “love,” and the following year he translated the work onto canvas; this would come to be the template for his most iconic work, LOVE (1966), an aluminum sculpture of the word with a tilted “O.”
In 1969, he began renting from the photographer Eliot Elisofon the upstairs floor of a Victorian-style lodge in the island town of Vinalhaven, Maine, as a seasonal studio. When Elisofon died in 1973, Indiana bought the lodge; he moved in full-time when he lost his lease in the Bowery in 1978.
Indiana grew reclusive in his final years, although he continued to create works with both personal and political imperatives. On May 19, 2018, fifty years after his LOVE painting made him a sensation in the art world, he died at his home in Vinalhaven, Maine, at the age of eighty-nine.
Indiana’s earliest works were inspired by commercial signage, and the LOVE series was a tribute to the graphic potential of the sign. Through his work, numbers and letters removed from their original context acquired a form of artistic beauty as shapes and silhouettes in their own right.
The LOVE series was created when Indiana was nearly forty years old and had already enjoyed success as an artist in New York. The painting quickly became a symbol of the flower-powered 1960s. He would go on to turn it into sculptures, and in the 1970s, LOVE became a popular U.S. postage stamp. That message now stands in cities around the world, from New York City and Philadelphia — home of the famous LOVE Park — to Tokyo and Singapore. It has been translated into Spanish, Hebrew, and other languages.
The iconic design followed early iterations that highlighted the word “love,” including a 1961 work titled Four Star Love. Indiana also presented it as a play on the phrase “God is love,” creating a circle in 1964 that framed the message Love Is God.
In 1977, Indiana was commissioned to design a hardwood basketball court for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks featuring bright yellow paint and the arena’s nickname, the MECCA. He signed the court, like a painting, on one of its baselines. Although the court was eventually disassembled, the flooring was later reassembled at U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee and opened to the public for viewing.
Although Indiana never fully identified as a Pop artist, his works’ stylistic similarities with Pop Art had a distinct effect on the movement. His use of textual form influenced subsequent generations of artists.
Recent Exhibitions of Robert Indiana
OCTOBER 11–NOVEMBER 26 2019
ALEXANDER BERGGRUEN, NEW YORK
OCTOBER 17–DECEMBER 29 2019
Picasso to Hockney: Modern Art on Stage
Traveling to Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg and Dayton Art Institute
MCNAY ART MUSEUM, SAN ANTONIO
NOVEMBER 15, 2019–JANUARY 31, 2020
What’s for Dinner?
GALERIE GMURZYNSKA, NEW YORK
APRIL 3–JULY 26 2020
Pop on Paper: From Warhol to Lichtenstein
APRIL 25–AUGUST 23 2020
Mapping the Collection
MUSEUM LUDWIG, COLOGNE
Value at Auction
Robert Indiana’s paintings and sculptures perform well at auction. His work entitled THE GREAT AMERICAN LOVE (LOVE WALL) was sold at auction on November 16, 2017, for USD $3,555,000. The work reveals a hard-edged and abstract beauty in the composition of the white serif letters against the flat, chromatic background of bright blue and vivid red. Four six-foot square panels of blue and red overwhelm in pure physical presence and scale.
Indiana’s LOVE WALL (RED GREEN BLUE) was sold at auction on May 14, 2008, for USD $2,841,000. An oil on canvas work, it features four mirror-image panels that form a kaleidoscope of unfolding color from a distinct center point.
Add the Works of Robert Indiana to Your Own Collection
Keep an eye out for live auctions in Dania Beach for the chance to add a work from this American artist to your collection. There are opportunities to participate in auctions via phone or online from anywhere in the world.