By C. M. Schmidlkofer
New York may have Andy Warhol as a claim to fame, but Indiana has Robert Indiana.
Both were iconic pop artists in the 1960s known for their colorful silkscreen prints, sculptures and paintings – Warhol with his Campbell Soup cans and Indiana with his “LOVE” font.
The latter was born in Indiana and spent his formative years in the Hoosier state before achieving fame in New York. He changed his name from Robert Clark while in New York, taking up permanent residence in Maine in the late 1970s.
A print retrospective of his work is being featured at the Indianapolis Museum of Art through May 4.
The Essential Robert Indiana exhibition features more than 50 of the artist’s work, many from his personal collection including 21 “Autoportraits” made by Indiana over the course of his career, works from his “American Dream” series as well as tributes to painters like Picasso.
With interactive features, an audio tour and printed descriptions of each work, viewers can understand Indiana’s purpose for each bold-designed and colorful print.
The decision to focus on Indiana’s autobiographical work is fundamental to understand Indiana’s images, IMA Curator of Print, Drawings and Photographs Martin Krause, said.
Visitors to the museum will see how many of Indiana’s paintings were inspired by road signs or - as in the case of the EAT/DIE diptych series - connected to important life experiences of the artist.
Working with Indiana over the span of two years in preparation for the exhibition, Krause said the artist decoded the shapes, symbols and words that make up his artistic vocabulary.
“I found the back stories behind Indiana’s images to be so unexpected that I am enjoying sharing them with the public, who are, I’m sure, also unsuspecting,” he said.
Throughout the exhibition area are areas visitors can learn more about Indiana and his art via various electronic means and interactives including the mobile guide; bench-mounted iPads featuring the artist’s life, influences and stories behind some of the artwork and his relationship with the IMA; wall-mounted iPads with video interviews of Robert Indiana; a “decode yourself” activity card where visitors can write their associations with numbers, shapes and colors on cards and post them on the wall; and an autoportrait station where visitors can create their own Indiana-inspired art on an iPad choosing numbers, names and colors. The autoportrait feature is also available online.
Plans for the current exhibition began as early as 2010 - with Krause, noted historian John Wilmerding and then-director Max Anderson - culminating in the exhibit which opened Feb. 16.
It was an effort that involved the entire IMA staff in one way or another, Krause said.
Krause worked directly with Indiana, visiting his Maine studio several times and holding telephone conversations.
About one third of the exhibition came from Indiana, another third from the Morgan Art Foundation which handles the artist’s business and a third from the museum’s own collection.
“Since we had the space, we’ve also added two works of sculpture,” Krause said. “The famous ‘LOVE’ painting and a gallery of photographic portraits of the artist. This gives the audience an inkling of Indiana’s broader career.”
The IMA purchased a sculptural version of the painting in 1967, which is situated outside the museum’s Sutphin Mall, along with a related artwork called “Numbers.”
While not the first time Indiana has been featured at the IMA, it is the first retrospective exhibition of his art. The IMA hosted surveys of his paintings in 1968 while known as the Herron Museum of Art and again in 1978, 1995 (new paintings) and in 2000 (sculpture).
IMA Public Affairs Coordinator Chris Parker said 15,000 visitors are expected during the course of the exhibition.
“At this time, it is too soon to fully gauge the public’s perception of The Essential Indiana,” Parker said. “Though we can say that some local arts critics have deemed it an artistic success.”
At only $12 a ticket, ($6 for children and free for children under age 6), it’s a show the whole family can enjoy.