Robert Indiana's iconic LOVE is a uniquely poetic work in the artist's oeuvre that came to embody a defining moment in American history. Here, the usage of metallic gold outlined with a deep blue hue forms a luxurious combination rarely seen in the artist's sculptural body of work. In this object, Indiana marries his most ubiquitous image of LOVE with the uniqueness of a bold blue and bright gold color pairing. The omnipresence of Indiana's LOVE can be seen walking down the streets of major cities from Manhattan to Tokyo. In fact, other iterations of this sculpture exist in Italian and Hebrew, reaching an undoubtedly global audience, but always maintaining the two by two square, block letter construction. LOVE is arguably the most recognizable image of the twentieth century.
Compositionally, Indiana started the motif of two letters stacked on two letters with a work he completed during a period of falling out with his mentor Ellsworth Kelly. Kelly reacted with dismay when Indiana showed him a painting with a profane four-letter iteration of LOVE with the U tilted towards the right. The use of classical, roman style, all capital letters has origins in Indiana's experience as a student at the University of Edinburgh where he typeset poetry. The tilted O is a common typographical device and over the years, the artist has explained it as representing everything from an erected phallus to a cat's eye. Given its profane derivation, LOVE is equally sweet and subversive, romantic and dark. It functions as a symbol of the 1960s counterculture's utopian ideas of sex, peace and love as well as the harsher realities of drugs, war and violence.
During the 60's, the pervasiveness and power of language was coming to the forefront in a period of social unrest. Similarly, vulgarities were particularly prominent as language was reexamined and reinvented. Just as the Summer of Love of 1967 encapsulates the liberal revolution of the 1960s, LOVE speaks to that same moment of cultural transformation. The LOVE series was conceived in 1966 and debuted at the Eleanor Ward Stable Gallery's "Love Show" which marked the beginning of a prolific period of Indiana's career closely tied to the 1960s counterculture and fascination with four letter words.
LOVE is not only representative of a watershed moment in Indiana's career but also of a pivotal moment in American history; a time when the term was appropriated and taken far beyond the world of galleries and museums. Yet LOVE has transcended the 60's and taken on new meaning with each successive decade. It continues to evolve as a cultural symbol. At once both ubiquitous and rare, all six-by-six feet of the four blue and gold letters, LOVE, is quite literally a trophy of American art.
This work will be included in the forthcoming Robert Indiana catalogue raissoné being prepared by Simon Salama-Caro.