Herbert Lust on the Art of Robert Indiana

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In 1973, collector Herbert Lust met Robert Indiana at a dinner party in Manhattan and the two immediately began a decades-long friendship. Over the years, Lust – the financier and one-time literature professor known for his unparalleled collection of works by Alberto Giacometti – has championed the painter, helping to organise international museum and gallery exhibitions and building a collection of Indiana’s important early works. Sotheby’s S|2 Gallery presents to the public for the first time Lust’s extensive holdings of Indiana’s paintings and drawings. Click ahead for a preview with commentary in Lust’s own colourful words.

Robert Indiana: Works from the Collection of Herbert Lust
8 September–6 October | New York

Herbert Lust on the Art of Robert Indiana

  • ONE, 1962
    "Bob considers the ONE to be his self-portrait (very different from myself, who I’ve always looked to be a zero, or subzero). It is quite evident why this is a self-portrait, as the very colors suggest alienation, uncertainty and anxiety. The ONE salutes the world, yet behind it stalks a black sea, the night, the unknown, lurking death. It is indeed a most intelligent ONE, it walks straight and proud, it trumpets loud and clear a majestic awareness about reality: no matter how good life seems it is always a balancing act, nothing is ever certain or stable. Take nothing for granted. Behind every victory and blessing the black sea lurks." – Herbert Lust

  • FOR, 1962
    "There are key Indiana images larger in size but none so perfect, so majestic, so meditative as FOR. There is no image in Indiana’s entire symphony that makes the verbal so visual, or the visual so verbal. It kills so many birds with one stone. It is also among the rare humorous instances in the oeuvre, the eye focusing on the FOR then seeing that it leads to the image of a fork, as indeed it does since a fork is “for” food! There is no picture in Bob’s oeuvre that is so Duchampian, that forces the brain to think about how words are formed or how the word and its object are always a wedding."– Herbert Lust


  • THE AMERICAN EAT: NEW YORK, 1962
    "This work is a rare ringing dance in Indiana’s output, the word “EAT” encircled in shifting reds, while resting on the words “NEW YORK.” This very special frottage may be unique in Bob’s work, as he so seldom drew with a red crayon. This work is the result of a laborious process of rubbing a crayon over paper that has been placed atop metal stencils, a procedure that requires a meditative focus with each individual stroke of the crimson wax. The image has a magic to it, the way it saunters, self-con! dent as it lingers in the eyes, enticing the face to eat. But eat what?"– Herbert Lust


  • GRASS, 1962
    "GRASS comes from a series of small word paintings that Indiana created between 1961 and 1962 that ingeniously merge abstraction and figuration. Many decades ago I was watching the weekly news program, 60 Minutes, hosted by Morley Safer, a Sunday painter. The subject was about how bizarre and ridiculous modern art has become. Much to my amazement flashing upon the screen was a picture of this painting! Now, years later, Indiana is famous around the world and Morley is long since forgotten. So much for pundits. As for me, I just love GRASS, it is a crescendo in green. The color green equates to an eternal youth, it makes the eyes speak and allows the brain to see."– Herbert Lust

  • RED SAILS, 1963
    "This painting has such a hypnotic effect on the eyes. Once when we had a lawn party at our home in Greenwich with Bob as the guest of honor, he chose to ignore everyone at the party just to stare at it. He just sat across from RED SAILS mesmerized, completely alone, oblivious to everything, staring at it for several hours. And well he might. No other Indiana painting demonstrates the sheer power with which the artist transforms a local event into a universal sign. It is a gorgeous, almost abstract, color symphony with a huge red circle floated on a wandering blue sea, which symbolizes the unknown. Whoever knows where love will lead or where the sails will go."– Herbert Lust

  • THREE, 1964
    "This particular THREE was painted while Indiana was living and working in Coenties Slip, the waterfront neighbourhood in lower Manhattan where he and other artists, including Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and, James Rosenquist – found affordable rents and worked alongside one another early in their careers. A former shipping port, Coenties Slip was also a source of inspiration for Indiana; the dark, teal-blue background of THREE resonates with the colour of the sea.”– Herbert Lust

  • CARDINAL FIVE, 1966
    "This is my favourite among the Numbers paintings. Not because my personal number is five, but because the work has such an overwhelming expressive power. It visually explodes with Indiana’s great psychedelic harmonies of red, green and blue. In no other Number painting is there so much personality, so much energy and so much music – like drums beating with delight.”– Herbert Lust

  • THE AMERICAN LOVE, 1968
    "There a number of variations on the word LOVE in Indiana’s output, with the most sought after being the diptych. In effect, the pair of canvases is a couple, one lover chanting, “love,” and the other singing back “love.” Bob chose this particular painting as the catalogue frontispiece for his 1999 retrospective at the Portland Museum of Art because it has the colours of the American flag and rings with a sense of patriotism. This painting reminds us that the American experiment, for all its faults, is about trust and love. America is beautiful.”– Herbert Lust

  • LOVE WALL, 1968
    "Indiana once mentioned that his using greys in some LOVE paintings was to show a gentle love compared to a high romantic fling that his intense reds suggest. This particular LOVE is composed like a Ferris wheel. The visual effect is just big and wild with hope, producing the giddy effect similar to falling in love.”– Herbert Lust

  • ART, 1969
    "No Indiana painting surpasses ART’s geometric interplay of color and Modernism. The letters are epic and imaginative, masterpieces of graphic design. The picture is rather like a Mondrian, lending itself to a first impression; then, with adoring time, ever new glimmers and poetry emerge from the canvas. This painting has a song, elegance, poetry and a heart."– Herbert Lust

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