This work will be included in the forthcoming Robert Indiana catalogue raisonné being prepared by Simon Salama-Caro.
Conceived in 1972, Robert Indiana's sculpture ART, represents one of the most important new directions in the artist's work developed during the 1970s. A time of great contemplation, the 1970's became a critical period in determining Indiana's next stage in his continuation and exploration of American speech following the success of his now iconic LOVE sculpture. Faced with two of the most basic questions raised by 20th Century art: What is the nature of reality? And what is the nature of painting and sculpture itself? Indiana spent the duration of the late sixties and early seventies reflecting upon how as an artist he could transform the visual pleasure of his paintings into three-dimensional objects. Created on the cusp of the Pop and Minimalist movements, the sculpture ART was originally presented in the form of a poster. Commissioned by Sam Hunter, an art critic and historian at Princeton, the poster was initially used for the show American Art Since 1960, which took place at the University's Museum of Art. Commonly referred to as the 'Alphagraph,' this piece "represents the voids of the letters as flat color areas; their linear elements exist only as tangent edges where they adjoin each other or separate from the ground underlying them" (C. J. Weinhardt Jr., Robert Indiana, New York, 1990, p. 199). A true testament to the hard-edge quality explored previously by Indiana, the poster became the inspiration for the ART paintings. These paintings integrated the three primary colors, Red, White and Blue, which are significant to Indiana for their purity and association with the American flag. It is important to note his fond affection for the American colors as Robert Indiana is above all an American painter of American signs. Through his exploration and attempt to answer the questions surrounding the assessment of art as physical object, Indiana followed in a similar logic to his earlier LOVE by taking the ART paintings one step further into a three-dimensional sculptural form. A seminal work, Robert Indiana's ART contrasts significantly to the solidity of his LOVE and NUMBERS sculptures and much of the other work created at the time by his Minimalist peers. With it's monumental scale, this unique and wonderful example combines several of Indiana's signature stylistic elements, blending language and image together with hard-edge line and pure color.
If Indiana's LOVE sculptures can be read in accordance to their material and mass then the idea of "love" could be interpreted as heavy, monumental yet colorful and rich. If ART were read in the same way its metaphorical reality would be nearly the opposite, sharp, open, lyrical, joyous. "Love" could be described as a feeling that is received or delivered projected outward, "Art" is often a joyous internal and personal concept, a highly individualized experience--we take for granted a word written on a page but how can we not be disarmed by the sight of a word in the form of a three dimensional object. No longer a passing thought, the sculpted word ART becomes a concrete object, no longer a signifier it is the sign itself and with this change in context ART churns itself into more than a dictionary definition, it has weight and substance and scale--it commands and entices and provokes like prayer. Indiana's ART takes Lichtenstein's fascination with the same word in his painting of the same title and pushes further towards poetry and not just a clever reflexivity. "Art", a word whose essence changes with time, takes on new significance as history marches forward. Indiana flexes his muscles with his towering ART and in this, the very largest and most vivid execution of the sculptural concept, he succeeds in producing a towering work that is wholly unique, beautiful and deceptively simple.