Best known for the ubiquitous LOVE design, art lovers and critics alike are rediscovering Robert Indiana (b. 1928) as an important figure in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s and 70s. One of his most significant print projects, the Decade portfolio (1971), has gone on view at the Currier Museum of Art
in Manchester, NH in the exhibition, Signs from the Sixties: Robert Indianas Decade from November 27, 2013 through April 30, 2014. The portfolio is being exhibited in tandem with a major painting he created in the same era, Decade Autoportrait 1963 (1971).
Indiana originally made the images in this show during the 1960s, yet his powerful visual statements about American identity resonate today, said Nina Gara Bozicnik, assistant curator at the Currier. Both celebratory and critical, Indiana's enticing works reflect on his own life and the social dynamics of the decade. They invite us to ponder both the enduring promise and shortcomings of the American story. The painting and the original print portfolio demonstrate Indianas signature style of using short words and bold typefaces. The text relates to his personal biography and the decades social issues.
The exhibition also features related content from the portfolio, including large sleeves with photographic images imprinted onto them. These hold the prints, giving viewers a rare glimpse into this elaborate work of art.
Indiana is the subject of a retrospective currently at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The New York Times describes Indianas works as
gateways between the visual and the verbal, the private and the public, the physical and the metaphysical, and the conscious and the unconscious.
A major figure in post-WWII American art, Robert Indiana, born Robert Clark, took his name from the state in which he grew up. In 1956, Indiana moved into a studio on the historic, downtown New York City waterfront, where he discovered 19th century commercial stencils that became the basis of his distinct hard edge, sign-based visual language. Indiana saw his credibility in the art world challenged due to the sheer popularity of his LOVE design, which is composed of the letters L and a tilted O placed atop the letters V and E. The icon emerged from personal drawings, which became the basis for a 1965 Museum of Modern Art commission for a Christmas card. It would later be used on stamps, posters and moreoften without the artists permission. Removing himself from his fame-plagued metropolitan life, Indiana left his New York studio in 1978 and moved to a small island off the central coast of Maine, where he resides today.
The Decade portfolio typifies Indianas signature graphical style, defined by bold, geometric shapes along with words, numbers and names of people and places that held a special meaning for him. While the words often have autobiographical significance, some are drawn from American poetry and literature, including Hart Cranes epic poem about the American experience The Bridge (1930). Indiana also found inspiration in an earlier generation of American artists, including Charles Demuth, whose I Saw The Figure Five in Gold (1928) features a repeating number 5 and served as the model for Indianas painting The Figure 5. A print of Indianas original painting is included in the exhibition. Each of the ten prints in the portfolio recreates an important painting Indiana made during the 1960s, recounting Indianas artistic output from this transformative decade year-by-year.
Some of the works reveal a politically sensitive artist. His 1965 image advocates for social justice. He references the killings of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss. in 1964. Its bold capitalized text reads, JUST AS IN THE ANATOMY OF MAN EVERY NATION MUST HAVE ITS HIND PART. Others include numbers the artist deemed significant. In USA 666, which pays homage to Indianas father who died in 1965, the number six references his fathers birth month of June and the petroleum company for whom his father worked for 12 years, Phillips 66. It also features the words EAT and DIE, which reappear in Indianas work. The 1968 print features the LOVE icon in black and white. The original painting was dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated that year.