Barbara Haskell, New York, Whitney Museum, Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE, 2013 - 2014, p. 99
By incorporating both text and symbols to frame conceptual ideas within aesthetic parameters, American artist Robert Indiana has become a master of Pop iconography. Drawing on aspects of advertising, military imagery, and traffic signage, Indiana defamiliarizes the popular visual language of his cultural moment and masterfully elevates it to a symbolic commentary on the American experience. The Red Yield Brother IV is archetypal of this inimitable style. Executed in 1964, at a time of great social and political unrest, the work activates common images and expressions into a compelling examination of the American zeitgeist.
The 1960s bore witness to a veritable assault of images – printed, painted, photographed, stenciled, and copied – that introduced a new set of signs, symbols, and imagery into the cultural canon. Pop artists set out to incorporate this shared visual experience into their work. Although the essence of Indiana's work quotes the same bright colors and urban elements, his literary quality, coded poetry, and repeated geometry distinguishes his work from his Pop contemporaries. In the early '60s, Indiana chose to concentrate on abstract commercial signs, such as highway markers, as a key component of his artistic vocabulary. Fascinated by the universality of minimalist forms as accepted shorthand for complex concepts, he often subverted this recognition by altering the color or orientation of these forms to present them with new significance, both highlighting their original meanings and offering fresh interpretations. Indiana incorporates all of these elements in The Red Yield Brother IV.
The first in the Yield Brother series was executed in 1963 for a benefit exhibition for the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, and the present work builds on the original theme and replaces the peace signs and cool blue tones with pivoted “Do Not Enter” symbols in a bold red and yellow palette. In keeping with his outspoken activism, Indiana utilizes his characteristic style to convey a message: "[The] first layer of meaning – the universal road sign language, supposed to ‘yield’ one identical message to all – is highjacked by a highly politicized, and polemical anti-Vietnam war sign, which may send the same message to all, although it does so by announcing very clearly on what side of the road the messenger is standing: all of a sudden, this universally understandable sign stands for Peace, for anti-Nixon protests, for an end to the American involvement in Vietnam, or for human rights activism" (Exh. Cat., Nice, Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Robert Indiana Retrospective 1958-1998, June-November 1998, p. 19). Indiana takes the language and visual imagery of mass media and transforms it into something specific and meaningful, creating a connection between his individual experience and the anonymous everyman.
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