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Exhibition

Robert Indiana: Sculpture 1958-2018

12 Mar 2022-16 Apr 2023

Overview

Spanning 60 years of the artist’s career, the exhibition will include a dynamic display of outdoor and indoor sculpture, along with significant paintings and prints, many of which have not been previously shown in the UK. Exhibited in the Underground Gallery and open air, Robert Indiana: Sculpture 1958-2018 will further the contextual understanding and public appreciation of this exceptional American artist. 

Robert Indiana: Sculpture 1958-2018 traces the development of the artist’s sculpture across six decades of significant social and political change. Through the selection of fifty-six works, six of which will be shown in the landscape, the exhibition explores the nuanced character of Indiana’s practice and his perception of the darker side of the American dream. Unity, acceptance, and love are themes that run throughout Indiana’s work and that remain relevant today, such as movements against racism and discrimination towards the LGBTQIA+ communities. 

Indiana was an advocate for many human rights issues, and central to the exhibition are his important social justice works. Mississippi (1965), from the artist’s Confederacy series, was a controversial response to racist atrocities committed against the United States Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, harking back to the 1861-65 American Civil War, with its formation of the pro-slavery and white supremacist Confederate States. Love Rising (The Black and White Love) (1968) was made in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Ash (1985), from Indiana’s Vinalhaven Construction series, references the gay community’s response to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. 

Beginning with Indiana’s earliest relief and collage forms, which incorporate found objects and remnants of industry taken from derelict warehouses near to his studio, the exhibition unfolds across Indiana’s series of sculptures made for both indoors and outdoors. One of the earliest works in the exhibition, The Melville Triptych references Coenties Slip, the street in Manhattan where Indiana lived from 1956 amid a community of notable artists, including Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and Cy Twombly, before he moved in 1978 to Vinalhaven, an island off the coast of Maine. Although away from the New York art scene, Indiana continued to create works in his home and studio, Star of Hope, which is now under the supervision of a foundation he created to preserve his legacy and promote visual arts education. 

Striking groups of Columns and Herms will be displayed across three gallery spaces, including early wooden constructions as well as later bronze casts. Varying in size from just over 1 metre to 3.5 metres tall, these sculptures were created using salvaged materials from the demolished industrial buildings surrounding the artist’s studio. Indiana studied typography whilst he was a student at the University of Edinburgh and the use of words and numbers became central to his artistic practice, particularly the exploration of their physical form. He first used words on his early wooden Herms, with the choice of word being dictated in part by the space in which the artist intended it to fit. He sought to use words that summarised a theme or feeling in the most direct way, for example, ‘eat’ to represent ‘life’ and ‘die’ to represent ‘death’. 

Positioned alongside a series of Columns is the large canvas Love is God (1964), which was commissioned for a Connecticut museum that was being transformed from a church. Indiana’s response was to reverse the religious statement ‘God is Love’, with which the artist was familiar, having been raised in a Christian Science family. 

Announcing the exhibition at the entrance to YSP will be Indiana’s iconic LOVE (Red Blue Green) (1966–1998). The artist first used the word in a painting in 1961. Beginning in 1964 he began a series of LOVE paintings using the unmistakable slanted ‘O’ within a square format that Indiana said was “the most dynamic way to use four letters”. The sculptural iterations of LOVE, the first of which was created in 1966 in aluminium, retain a sense of being extruded forms of the two-dimensional letters. At YSP, this work will be seen against the background of parkland, lakes and woodland valley. 

Indiana’s brilliantly coloured, 6-foot-high aluminium sculptures ONE Through ZERO (The Ten Numbers) (1980–2001) will be placed on the lawn outside the Underground Gallery. Blending painting and sculpture, the Numbers represent the stages of human life, from birth to death. Indiana’s fascination with numbers stemmed from an acute awareness of how they are connected to everything we do and how they are understood across many languages. “Numbers fill my life,” he stated. “They fill, my life even more than love. We are immersed in numbers from the moment we’re born.” 

Running from the summer solstice to the autumn equinox 2022, and taking inspiration from Indiana’s exhibition, YSP’s Summer of Love will be a series of events and projects celebrating human relationships, understanding and love between people. As well as sparking moments of pure, joyful connection, the programme will investigate the complexities of love and community: how we relate to one another and ourselves, and how we can represent love in a way that is inclusive of and compassionate to everyone. 

In the Bothy Gallery, a summer-long programme made in collaboration with LGBTQIA+ communities will span film screenings, readings, workshops and pop-ups, as well as focused engagement work. At times the gallery will be used as a safe space for invited groups to explore and learn together in a supportive environment. This will be a place for sharing experiences and listening and will provide a platform for diverse representation responding to Indiana’s work and the programme’s themes. 

A 45-page illustrated guide and a 128-page catalogue will be produced, featuring in-situ photography and including texts by Flavia Frigeri, Chanel Curator for the Collection at the National Portrait Gallery and the author of Pop Art and Women Artists (Art Essentials); Clare Lilley, Director of Programme at YSP; and the artist. 

The exhibition is supported by Morgan Art Foundation Ltd. and Henry Moore Foundation. Morgan Art Foundation Ltd. is the business enterprise that worked with Robert Indiana from 1995 onward as the artist’s exclusive partner for the authorised production, conservation, sale, and promotion of his sculpture series. Morgan Art Foundation Ltd. remains dedicated to preserving Robert Indiana’s artistic legacy and deepening the appreciation for his work among scholars and the public, in close cooperation with the non-profit Star of Hope Foundation established by the artist. 

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