Robert Indiana (B. 1928)
Robert Indiana (B. 1928)

The Great American Love (Love Wall)

Robert Indiana (B. 1928)
The Great American Love (Love Wall)
signed, inscribed and dated in stencil 'Robert Indiana 2 Spring 1972 New York' (on the reverse)
four elements--oil on canvas
each: 72 x 72 in. (183 x 183 cm.)
overall: 144 x 144 in. (366 x 366 cm.)
Painted in 1972.
Collection of the artist
Private Collection, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
C.J. Weinhardt, Jr., Robert Indiana, New York, 1990, pp. 162-163 (illustrated in color in alternate configuration of four horizontal canvases).
Notre Dame, Saint Mary's College, Department of Art, Robert Indiana: Graphics, June-July 1969.
New York, Galerie Denise René, Robert Indiana, November-December 1972, n.p., (illustrated; exhibited in alternate configuration of four horizontal canvases).
Rockland, William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum and Waterville, Colby College Museum of Art, Indiana's Indianas, July-December 1982 (illustrated in color opposite p. 1; alternately titled Love Wall).
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, The "POP ART" Exhibition, October 1992-January 1993.
New York, Marisa Del Re Gallery and O'Hara Gallery, The Popular Image: Pop Art in America, 1995 (illustrated in color on the cover). Nice, Museé d'Art Moderne et Art Contemporain, Robert Indiana: Rétrospective 1958-1998, June-November 1998, pp. 94, 241 and 315 (illustrated in color).
Portland Museum of Art; Marietta, Cobb Museum of Art, Love and the American Dream: The Art of Robert Indiana, June 1999-January 2000, n.p., no. 43.
Milwaukee Museum of Fine Art, on temporary loan and exhibited with permenant collection, 2003-2004, p. 105.

Lot Essay

The Great American Love (Love Wall) is the culmination of Robert Indiana's seminal series of paintings. It is layered in its meaning combining a cacophony of personal references, social commentary and an acute mastery of the dominate painting modes. Speaking of this work, Indiana said, "I have created many Loves. Of all of them, this one became the largest and most significant of my career. Since it was the American Love, there was no color choice imaginable besides Red, White, and Blue."

Though Indiana's icon Love speaks directly of the decade taking that name, it is, like all of Indiana's best works deeply personal. Indiana's psyche was early on emblazoned with "Love" when his parents took him to worship at church where he read the phrase "God is love" over and over. Profaning his religious upbringing, Love is a sign--post of his sexual proclivities. Indiana arrived at his master opus through an initial painting titled Fuck. This first work, arguably too aggressive and flagrant, morphs into Love. Love is, after all, a gentile word for the most carnal act. Susan Ryan points out that the graphic design of Love paintings create aggressive phalluses and at the center of this maelstrom of sexual innuendo is the crux of the work, the tilted O. "Over the years he (Indiana) has explained the O as "representing" everything from a cat's eye to an erect phallus" (S. Ryan, "Eternal Love", Love and the American Dream: The Art of Robert Indiana, exh. cat., Portland Museum of Art, 1999, p. 85). Beyond his own mythology, The Great American Love also has deep resonance with its era. In 1972 America was gripped by the Vietnam War. Love functions as a double entendre of patriotic exhibitionism and anti-war sentiment. In short, Indiana's images always function on multiple levels and Love is both sexually and philosophically charged.

This multiplicity is also evident in the stunning visual impact of the painting. It is, at once, the finest example of Pop art and hard-edged abstraction. Indiana was seamlessly able to integrate all of the dominiate vocabularies of his day into one mighty statement. He said of his paintings, "It's always been a matter of impact, the relationship of color and word to shape and word to complete piece--both the literal and visual aspects. I'm most concerned with the force of its impact" (quoted in Ibid, p. 76). Reacting to this sentiment, Susan Ryan notes, "In this comment Indiana's desire to grab hold of the viewer has led him to emphasize formal concerns, concerns he shared with his painting mentor, Ellsworth Kelly. Indiana's flat, symmetrical, hard-edge compositions [are] near abstractions despite their simple words" (Ibid, p. 76). Possibly the most revealing and complimentary comment came from the critic Clement Greenberg, the champion of Abstract-Expressionism, who wrote to Susan Ryan, "[It has] more 'body' to it than the run of Popit hit my eye more, was more 'plastic,' i.e. more 'formalist'. He filled out more, worked more with the medium as against the schematicism or stunting of a lot of Pop" (quoted in ibid, p. 76)

The Love paintings were first exhibited at the Stable Gallery in 1966. The Great American Love was the center piece of his second Love exhibition that took place at the Denise René Gallery in 1972. As malleable in its interpretation as it is in its presentation The Great American Love can take multiple forms. First exhibited as four consecutive canvases, the painting also transforms into its present state. Monumental in scale, its pulsating presence is able to fill both public and private spaces alike. The Great American Love is Indiana's supreme statement. Unique and unrivaled in its monumentality and impact, its appearance at auction is a once in a lifetime opportunity.


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