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LOVE sculpture temporarily off view for conservation
Robert Indiana, LOVE, 1970, 75.174 © 2016 Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN.- Next month, Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture will temporarily go off view from the IMA’s Dudley and Mary Louise Sutphin Mall to undergo conservation treatment. When treatment concludes in spring 2017, LOVE will debut in its new home inside the Pulliam Family Great Hall, where it will welcome guests into the galleries as it has welcomed guests to the IMA campus for the past decade.

The sculpture is a beloved landmark of both the IMA and city of Indianapolis, and also holds a significant place in art history. Completed in 1970 and accepted as the original version of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures, the work represents the beginning of the artist’s foray into large-scale works and helped establish the Hoosier native as a major player in the international pop art movement.

The IMA’s LOVE is fabricated in Cor-Ten steel—a trade name for weathering steel—which gives the sculpture its rough, worn appearance. Indiana was one of the first artists to work with this material. When it came into use in the 1960s, little was known about how the material would withstand the outdoor elements over an extended period of time.

Prolonged contact with water has caused the Cor-Ten steel to corrode over time. The combination of Indiana’s climate and the shape of the sculpture have resulted in uneven drying, which has accelerated the deterioration. The uneven drying has also caused red, orange streaks on the surface of the sculpture, altering the intended appearance of the work. Water has penetrated the interior of the sculpture and become trapped, triggering internal corrosion and weakening the metal, which has resulted in holes and split seams throughout the sculpture.

Many of Indiana’s other works, including his later LOVE sculptures, are made using painted aluminum. The paint provides a smooth, glossy finish and an added layer of protection to endure the elements. Indiana’s Numbers, currently on display on the IMA’s Alliance Sculpture Court, is an excellent example of his work in painted aluminum.

IMA conservation and curatorial staff have monitored the condition of LOVE closely throughout the years. Since joining the IMA’s permanent collection in 1975, the piece has been exhibited in a number of different locations both indoors and out and has received a variety of conservation treatments to maintain the artistic and structural integrity.

To assess the sculpture’s condition and develop a new conservation plan, the IMA worked with outdoor sculpture conservation expert Abigail Mack and Alfred Lippincott, a representative from the company that originally fabricated the piece. The company, Lippincott’s, LLC, has fabricated and conserved large scale sculptures since 1966. Mack and Lippincott assessed the structural condition of the piece as poor to fair. They recommended that the piece be removed from outdoor display as soon as possible in order to preserve the sculpture, and that the next course of action should be to stabilize and repair the piece for permanent display inside the Museum. In its new home in Pulliam Family Great Hall, the sculpture will be displayed in the round, as the artist intended.

The IMA’s conservation treatment of LOVE will focus on stabilization. The sculpture will be moved indoors, disassembled and fully dried out. Structural issues will be assessed and repaired, corrosion will be reduced and the surface will be integrated to create an even finish. The public can learn more about the conservation treatment through videos and photos on the IMA website.

As the original LOVE sculpture, the work is iconic. In 1971 it was loaned to the city of New York, where it was displayed in Central Park during the holiday season. The next year, it was the focal point of the exhibition Monumental Sculpture for Public Spaces in Boston. It has appeared in commercials for Eli Lilly & Company and L.S. Ayres department store, and once greeted guests to The Indiana National Bank of Indianapolis. At the IMA it has been displayed in a variety of settings through the years. The sculpture has sat in its current location on the Dudley and Mary Louise Sutphin Mall since 2006.

“We are incredibly privileged to have this iconic work as part of our IMA collection,” said Dr. Charles L. Venable, the IMA’s Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO. “As stewards of this important sculpture, which is significant to both our community and the art world, we are committed to preserving LOVE so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

The conservation is supported by the James LaCrosse Family. The LaCrosses are life trustees of the IMA, where Pat has served on the Board of Governors and also been a docent since 1983. In addition to their generous donation to ensure the LOVE sculpture is here for future generations, the LaCrosse family has also offered a $10,000 matching challenge to help raise funds for the LOVE conservation and other important conservation projects required to care for the IMA’s world-renowned collection. The public can help to preserve LOVE by making a gift on the IMA website.

“We are thrilled that we can help to preserve this beloved artwork so that it may continue to serve as an iconic centerpiece of the IMA campus," said Jim and Pat LaCrosse. “LOVE has had such a remarkable legacy, both on the IMA campus and around the country. We look forward to its next chapter as it welcomes guests into the IMA galleries."

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