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Robert Indiana’s 12-Foot-Tall ‘Love’ Sculpture Returns to New York City

By Emmie MurphySep 13 2023
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LOVE is back. The sculpture, that is. After an absence of three years, Robert Indiana’s beloved work will return to New York City as part of a public exhibition at Rockefeller Center.

In partnership with The Robert Indiana Legacy Initiative, Rockefeller Center will display a range of Indiana’s artwork throughout the campus. The exhibition, which will run from September 13 through October 23, includes the 12-foot-high polychrome aluminum LOVE sculpture that once adorned the corner of Sixth Avenue and 55th Street as well as Indiana’s monumental sculptures ONE Through ZERO (The Ten Numbers) (1980-2001) and images from the artist’s Peace Paintings series that will be displayed on the flags surrounding The Rink at Rockefeller Center.

Photo by Eliot Elisofon

The self-proclaimed “American painter of signs,” Indiana’s oeuvre is informed by his use of universal symbols like numbers and letters. These monumental works coming to Rockefeller Center highlight these strong threads woven throughout his six-decade career.

“Indiana’s work has always touched upon the very nuanced and resonant themes occurring within the American landscape – socially, politically, and demographically,” says Emeline Salama-Caro, managing director of The Robert Indiana Legacy Initiative. “Language was extremely important to him, and in many ways through his trademark style, he was trying to bring attention to the many complicated issues that people were experiencing. Through poetry and words, he was calling for something that was missing in the world.”

Beyond language, Indiana was also drawn to numbers. His series ONE Through ZERO (The Ten Numbers) consists of 10 individual numbers made of Cor-Ten steel. Standing 8 feet in height, each number represents a different phase of a person’s life from birth until death. “Numbers fill my life,” the artist once said. “They fill my life even more than love. We are immersed in numbers from the moment we are born.”

The last component of this exhibition includes images from a poignant body of work completed by Indiana after witnessing the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. Indiana created in 2003, a series of works which he titled his Peace Paintings. A continuation of a theme Indiana had begun in the mid-1960s, the works incorporate the peace sign, a now ubiquitous symbol first designed by Gerald Holtom for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, rendered on diamond and square-shaped canvases. Each individual painting includes a poem or statement, both calling for peace and lamenting its elusivity. “Peace dives in oblivion,” “Whither has peace gone,” and “Peace: a pearl in peril” are all lines from the series. “I think of my peace paintings as one long poem, with each painting being a single stanza,” the artist has said.

Twelve of these paintings have been chosen to adorn the 193 flags that encircle The Rink. “The Peace Paintings are again using that idea of signage and incorporating elements of poetry and language that are so typical of his work,” says Salama-Caro. “We all remember where we were on 9/11 and what we felt. There was a huge shift that was happening globally, and true to his style, Indiana was raising an awareness of an important issue, a call for something that was needed, peace. Sadly, we still need it today.”

What is particularly powerful about the upcoming installation is this continued resonance of Indiana’s work. Years after his death and decades past the launch of his career, the themes and preoccupations of his oeuvre remain relevant today. It is even more fitting that these works should land at Rockefeller Center, a hub of city life that draws crowds from all walks of life.

“Art is a safe space in which to share our feelings and emotions,” says Salama-Caro. “I think Bob left an important legacy to remind us that we need to come together, to be united. That’s what we’re trying to do with this project. We want to bring people back together through art, especially public art, which can add so much value to people’s lives.”

Rockefeller Center, in partnership with The Robert Indiana Legacy Initiative, will host an installation of works by American artist Robert Indiana (1928-2018), on view throughout the campus from September 13 through October 23, 2023.

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