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The Whitney Museum of American Art presents retrospective of Pop artist Robert Indiana
Robert Indiana, The Beware – Danger American Dream #4, 1963. Oil on canvas. Four panels: 36 1/8 x 36 in. (91.6 x 91.5 cm) each; 102 1/4 x 102 1/4 in. (259.5 x 259.5 cm) overall. Collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1966©2013 Morgan Art Foundation, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- The first major American museum retrospective devoted to the work of Robert Indiana is being presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art this fall. Organized by Whitney curator Barbara Haskell, the exhibition focuses on the powerful body of work created by Indiana over the past five decades, exploring his bold use of language, his continual questioning and dissection of American identity, and the multiple layers of personal history embedded in his art. The exhibition, Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE, is on view in the Whitney’s fourth-floor Emily Fisher Landau Galleries from September 26, 2013, through January 5, 2014.

Known the world over for his iconic LOVE, Indiana (b. 1928) early on embraced a vocabulary of highway signs and roadside entertainments, combining words with images to create art that was dazzlingly bold and visually kinetic. In the early 1960s, he was central to the emergence of Pop art, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol. Like these contemporaries, he shared a desire to both critique and celebrate post-war American culture. Using a populist, quintessentially American style, he addressed in his work many of the fundamental issues facing humanity, including love, death, sin, forgiveness, and racial injustice.

Joining simple declarative words with bold, hard-edge graphics allowed Indiana to embed multiple layers of autobiographical and cultural references into his art. Although visually dazzling on the surface, his imagery has a psychologically disquieting subtext; it draws on the myths, history, art, and literature of the United States to raise questions about American identity and American values. “Indiana’s exploration of identity, racial injustice, and the illusion and disillusion of love give emotional poignancy and symbolic complexity to our ever-evolving understanding of the ambiguities of American democracy and the plight of the individual in the modern world,” says curator Barbara Haskell.

The success of LOVE eclipsed to a great extent the range and breadth of Indiana’s work. Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE remedies this by placing well known works such as EAT/DIE (1962), Exploding Numbers (1964-66), and LOVE (1965) alongside more than seventy-five other works, from early pieces the artist made in 1955 to his Ninth American Dream (2001), the last piece in a series that has consumed him throughout his career. Also included are:

• Indiana’s painted vertical wood sculptures, (called herms by the artist after anthropomorphic stone pillars in ancient Greece);

• his abstract geometric paintings from the late 1950s and early 1960s;

• his entire politically-charged Confederacy series, pinpointing sites of violent crimes against African Americans and civil rights workers;

• Indiana’s rarely seen papier-collé collages of costumes that he designed for the Bicentennial production of Virgil Thomson’s and Gertrude Stein’s operatic collaboration The Mother of Us All;

• Indiana’s series of paintings using texts drawn from the American writers Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow;

• paintings inspired by twentieth-century American masterworks by artists such as Joseph Stella, Charles Demuth, and Marsden Hartley.

By early 1960, the artist, known by then as Robert Indiana (having changed his name from Robert Clark in 1958), had begun to apply elementary words onto his vertical wooden sculptures or herms, using found stencils that had been employed in earlier times to affix trademarks and labels to commercial freight. The use of straightforward, everyday words allowed Indiana to work on multiple levels, creating works which were, on one hand, immediately understandable and direct and, on the other, akin to conceptually multilayered verbal-visual puzzles. “Indiana’s marriage of language and hard-edge abstraction was audacious,” says Haskell. “It was one thing to insinuate words into an overall composition or depict them with painterly brushstrokes, but to present them without mediation, in the style of advertisements, was unprecedented.”

Indiana was thrust into the spotlight of the New York art world when Alfred Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art, purchased American Dream 1 in 1961, before Pop art had coalesced as a movement. Two years later, Indiana’s status as one of the major artists of his generation was solidified by Dorothy Miller’s inclusion of his work in her exhibition of rising talents, Americans 1963. By the time Indiana was commissioned by Philip Johnson to make a work for the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, he was considered one of the leading Pop artists of the day.

LOVE, with its stacked letters and tilted “O,” is Indiana’s best-known but also his most controversial work. In taking a commonplace word and transforming it into a powerfully resonant art object onto which viewers could project their own spiritual, erotic, and personal experiences and associations, Indiana created one of the most famous images in 20th century art. LOVE appeared at the height of the countercultural revolution and instantly became a talisman of sexual freedom, with massive numbers of commercial products bearing the image produced without the artist’s permission. Over time, the plethora of objects bearing the LOVE logo, and Indiana’s almost exclusive identification with the image, muted recognition of the complexities and range of his art.

A reassessment of Indiana’s career has been underway for several years. With this reevaluation has come recognition of the poignancy and complexity of Indiana’s work and its status as a precedent for the contemporary text-based art of younger artists such as Jenny Holzer, Mel Bochner, Glenn Ligon, Christopher Wool, and Barbara Kruger. Presenting the full sweep of Indiana’s work, this exhibition provides audiences with the opportunity to revisit the work of an artist central to the narrative of the 1960s as well as to contemporary practice.

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