One of the most iconic images of Pop Art and Contemporary American culture, Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture was first conceived in 1966 when the artist carved the 4 letters in a block of aluminum for the Stable Gallery. LOVE was his first single-word sculpture and from this point on, this image pervaded the artistic visual culture as well as the public sphere. Subsequently, Indiana was commissioned around the world to create versions of his LOVE statue in varying sizes and colors, and today, the 4 block letters L-O-V-E are sold in souvenir shops around the world, even in different languages, conveying the universality of Indiana’s aesthetic and message.
In the present work, the 96-inch LOVE is coated in a bright, shiny blue patina, with vivid red peeking through from the insides of the letters. The work is instantly recognizable and eye-catching both in its scale and color. There is an immediacy to the color and form that is visually alluring and harmonious, but there is also a directness of the text itself. Indiana focused on the importance of signage in American visual culture throughout his career, and his works are thought-out meditations on the impact of words and language in connecting to viewers. Indiana’s choices of words, whether LOVE, EAT, or PEACE, are accessible and tangible, speaking directly to his audience. Still, these words leave room for ambiguity and individual interpretation.
Not entirely figurative, nor abstract, text-based art introduced a new visual language for Contemporary artists, and Indiana was its foremost pioneer. Indiana paved a path of generations to come who used text as their primary component. Bruce Nauman, Richard Prince, Christopher Wool and Glenn Ligon all highlight the supremacy of language, each for a different effect and objective. Whereas Indiana uses text to communicate universal messages, Wool uses text to point to the complexities and inefficiencies of language. In reference to Wool’s text paintings, Marga Paz writes, “Wool made the viewer reinterpret the meaning of words used in his paintings, thereby underlining the failure of language as an effective, objective medium of communication." (Exh. Cat. IVAM Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Christopher Wool, 2006, p. 201) Though the intent may differ, the emphasis that Indiana placed on text-as-subject stimulated and resonated with subsequent generations of Contemporary artists.
Although the LOVE works were exhibited globally, there is a uniquely American quality about them, and the backdrop of the politically-charged 1960s America certainly played a significant role in Indiana’s work during this time. 1966, the year of this work’s conception, was a time of social and political upheaval: America was still reeling from the effects of World War II, grappling with the Cold War, preparing for the Vietnam War, and experiencing uprisings from marginalized groups in the Women’s and Civil Rights movements. Famously active in civil rights and war protests, Indiana intended his work as a political statement for peace and love. In this contentious era, the LOVE statue served as a beacon of hope and reminder of humanity, and still today, we can just as easily adopt the sculpture’s universal message to our modern day political and humanitarian struggles.
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