“Some people like to paint trees. I like to paint love. I find it more meaningful than painting trees.”
—Robert Indiana (1928– )
On Valentine’s Day, we are celebrating love with LOVE, Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture to be specific. It is a well-known piece of Pop Art, that began as a series of paintings. Measuring twelve feet high, LOVE, in red and blue, was installed in February 2000. It sits at the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and West 55th Street in Midtown Manhattan, waiting for a little love. And it gets it!
Born Robert Clark in 1928, he changed his name to Robert Indiana in the fall of 1958. That same year he toyed with LOVE, the word, not the emotion. He experimented with the poetry and art of the word by stacking the “LO” above the “VE”. In the summer of 1965 the Museum of Modern Art commissioned Mr. Indiana to design its Christmas card. Mr. Indiana submitted his rearranged LOVE on paper in four color possibilities; MoMA chose the red, blue, and green version. It became one of the museum’s best-selling items.
Because the card was such a success, Mr. Indiana started exhibiting his LOVE art in New York’s “LOVE Show.” This work of art fit perfectly with the changing ideas of love, becoming a symbol of the 1960s counter-culture. According to Mr. Indiana, the negative space of LOVE’s tilted “O” represents an erect phallus. Indeed!
Mr. Indiana never copyrighted his LOVE letters because he didn’t want to clutter up the design with his signature or a copyright mark. This meant that he had no legal protection against rip-offs; he would receive hardly any financial compensation when his image was copied, appearing on everything and anything. The United States Postal Service reproduced his design for an 8-cent Valentine’s stamp in 1973; it sold over 300 million copies.
It is curious that Mr. Indiana’s Love sculpture sits at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 55th Street. In September 1954 he rented a room in the Floral Studios, a seven-story residential hotel at 325 West 56th Street that catered to artists. Two years later he took a part-time job selling art supplies at E. H. & A. C. Friedrichs Company on West 57th Street for $20 a week, working there three years. These locations are only a few blocks from where LOVE stands.
In 1970 Lippincott Foundry, which would serve as Mr. Indiana’s foundry for more than 20 years, produced a twelve-foot-high, Cor-Ten steel LOVE; it was exhibited in February at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The piece went to Boston in October, installed in the city hall plaza as part of the exhibition Monumental Sculpture for Public Spaces. LOVE traveled to New York in November 1971. It was displayed at the Fifth Avenue entrance to Central Park (see above photo); it remained on view for six weeks, before returning to the Indianapolis museum, where it is on permanent display.
LOVE sculptures are displayed on streets and in parks around the world. Originally created in English, LOVE is now spelled out in Hebrew, Chinese, Italian and Spanish. As part of Philadelphia’s bicentennial celebration, a six-foot-high red/purple LOVE was installed on the John F. Kennedy Plaza in September 1976.
Give a read to previous articles celebrating love: Sidewalk Love and A Valentine from Walk About New York. Discover New York best with Walk About New York’s guided walking tours.
ALL PHOTOS (except where noted) AND TEXT © THE AUTHOR 2016