Private Collection, Brussels
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, Contemporary Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 11 September 1983, Lot 31
C&M Arts, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
New York, C&M Arts, Robert Indiana: Letters, Words and Numbers, 2003, n.p., no. 7, illustrated in colour
Judd Tully, ‘Second Coming’, Art & Auction, June 2003, p. 96, illustrated in colour
One of the abiding themes of Indiana’s career has been his fascination with signs and their place within a social and historical context. His earliest works were inspired by commercial signage, in particular the stencilled letters found on packaging, and the Love series was a direct heir to his realisation of the graphic potential of the sign: divorced from their everyday meaning by prolonged study and removed from their original context, numbers and letters acquired a form of artistic beauty as shapes and silhouettes in their own right. Indiana referred to this concept in direct connection with Love: “In a sense… I got down to the subject matter of my work… The subject is defined by its expression in the word itself… Love is purely a skeleton of all that word has meant in all the erotic and religious aspects of the theme, and to bring it down to the actual structure of the calligraphy [is to reduce it] to the bare bones” (Robert Indiana quoted in: Theresa Brakely, Ed., Robert Indiana, New York 1990, p. 168). Viewed in this light, Love becomes almost abstract in nature, a bold stamp of sinuous curves deployed in conjunction with sharp straight lines to create an object of lyrical beauty and harmonious balance. Ed Ruscha forms a worthy artistic comparison, an artist who similarly allows text to drift apart from its symbolic meaning and to carry weight as much as an aesthetic motif of formalist beauty as a linguistic symbol of emotive import.
Indiana later recalled the genesis of the Love series, referencing the spiritual elements behind the creation of its earliest manifestations: “The reason I became so involved in [it] is that it is so much a part of the peculiar American environment, particularly in my own background, which was Christian Scientist. ‘God is Love’ is spelled out in every church” (Ibid., p. 154). Love can thus be seen as an affectionate homage to the childhood influences Indiana encountered whilst living in the state from whence he adopted his name; indeed, the first commission he received on the theme, in 1964, was to create an image for a museum in a converted church. The resulting work, Love is God, neatly inverted the message from the religious signboards that had made such an impact on the young Indiana. It was only a short developmental step after this to the discovery of the eponymous square Love motif, which was first exhibited in 1966 and quickly achieved immense popularity. The quadrilateral Love seemed to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of the times, paralleling the rise of hippie culture and the corresponding liberation of social mores, a shaking off of prior conventions that culminated in the so called ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967. Yet whilst the ideas of ‘free love’ and ‘flower power’ are now somewhat dated, Indiana’s Love remains a timeless symbol of a universal concept, one to which the entire condition of humanity continues to aspire.
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