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robert indiana
robert indiana

15 Things You Should Know About Robert Indiana's LOVE

robert indiana
robert indiana

You've no doubt seen Robert Indiana's LOVE. Versions of LOVE have been seen all over the world in paintings, photos, and—in the case of his popular monuments—in person. But while LOVE is everywhere, the facts behind its creation and rise to fame are heartbreaking. 

1. THE EARLY RENDITIONS WERE STARKLY DIFFERENT.

In 1961, Indiana painted a canvas in different shades of red that said "LOVE" on the bottom and had four stars, which he would credit as giving him the idea to stack the letters. But the more immediate ancestor came in 1964, when Indiana pulled inspiration from his religious roots to create Love is God. The grey-scale diamond-shaped painting took its inspiration from an inscription in Indiana’s childhood Christian Science church that read, "God is Love." According to Indiana, “Although the Love Is God canvas bears no relationship to what now has become a logo, it started me thinking about the subject of love.”

2. LOVE AS WE KNOW IT BEGAN AS A CHRISTMAS CARD. 

Through his exploration in text art, Indiana created his first LOVE for personal Christmas cards in 1964. Perhaps he sent one to the folks at the Museum of Modern Art. The following year, the museum commissioned him to design a similar Christmas card to be sold in its gift shop. The LOVE card quickly became one of the store’s most popular items. 

3. ITS INSPIRATIONS WERE DEEPLY PERSONAL.

In the wake of his father's death, Indiana paid tribute to his departed parent with the colors of his 1966 painting, LOVE. The red and green were meant to recall the sign of the Phillips 66 where his father toiled during the artist's hardscrabble childhood when he was still known as Robert Clark. The blue represented the sky of his home state and chosen namesake, Indiana. 

4. THE CHRISTMAS CARD'S SUCCESS LED TO A WHOLE EXHIBITION.

In 1966, Indiana held the LOVE Show at the Stable Gallery, which boasted paintings, drawings, and small sculptures that all played up on the word and its rendering in the bestselling card. The work spoke to the peace and love generation, so the show drew national media attention, including coverage on NBC. 

5. LOVE SPREAD QUICKLY. 

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Indiana created bigger LOVE paintings, and in 1970 built the first of many large LOVE sculptures for public display. The monumental statue and its maker went on a short tour that stopped at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Boston City Hall, and Manhattan's Central Park. The 12-foot by 12-foot by 6-foot structure drew such crowds that Indiana made more. They can be found in major cities like Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, Vancouver, Lisbon, Tokyo, and Singapore.   

6. THE CHRISTMAS CARD LED TO A VALENTINE'S DAY STAMP. 

Indiana oversaw the design for the United States Postal Service LOVE stamp that was first printed in 1973. With more than 300 million copies sold, it became one of the best-selling commemorative stamps of all time (although technically it’s a special stamp, not a commemorative), spreading LOVE around the globe with each new printing. 

7. LOVE EMERGED AS A LITERAL SIGN OF THE TIMES. 

Soon, LOVE was everywhere. The Broadway cast of Hair posed before a LOVE statue for a promotional shoot. The already iconic text treatment was being reproduced on cufflinks, rings, album and book covers, all tapping into the counterculture zeitgeist of the '60s and '70s. As Hélène Depotte explained in Robert Indiana: Retrospective 39, "It has left its creator behind to attain an expansive autonomy of its own. LOVE reflected a whole state of mind, a general aspiration, and a universal utopia." 

8. EVEN AS THE PIECE BECAME AN ICON, FAME ELUDED INDIANA ... 

In 1976, he admitted, "Everybody knows my LOVE, but they don't have the slightest idea what I look like. I'm practically anonymous." 

9. AND LOVE DIDN'T MAKE HIM RICH. 

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Or at least not as rich as you'd think. Indiana failed to copyright his LOVE design, so opportunistic copycats began springing up left and right, churning out cheap aluminum paperweights and other baubles that would never earn their true designer a dime. Later, he struggled to gain a patent because trademark courts refused to grant a copyright for a single word. Further efforts did little to stop the flood of imitators.  

10. ALL THE SAME, LOVE BRANDED INDIANA A SELL-OUT. 

In the eyes of Indiana’s artistic peers, designing a MoMA Christmas card was one thing. But when Indiana opened "Love Show," it sent a signal that he considered his commercial work part of his artistic career, which rankled the art world’s elite. They saw Indiana's small LOVE sculptures not as a way to make art more accessible to cash-strapped would-be collectors, but as pandering to the mainstream. The overexposure caused by knockoffs of his work only made matters worse. 

11. INDIANA TRIED TO USE PHOTOGRAPHS TO FORGE A CONNECTION WITH HIS WORK.

"I wasn't aware that I was disrespected," Indiana told NPR in a 2014 interview, "I've only been neglected." When LOVE took off, he began a personal campaign to be pictured with his pieces to remind the public of the man behind them.   

12. LOVE MADE INDIANA A RECLUSE. 

By 1978, the artist was exhausted by New York and its overwhelming and often hostile art scene. So, he packed up and moved to the isolated Maine island of Vinalhaven. "LOVE bit me," he confessed in the NPR interview, "It was a marvelous idea, but it was also a terrible mistake. It became too popular; it became too popular. And there are people who don't like popularity. It's much better to be exclusive and remote. That's why I'm on an island off the coast of Maine, you see." 

13. LOVE HAS BEEN TRANSLATED. 

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A Hebrew version can be found at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. But 1998's AMOR snagged headlines in 2015 when the Philadelphia Museum of Art proudly exhibited the piece to celebrate Pope Francis's historic visit to the City of Brotherly Love. The Spanish translated piece was meant as a tribute to the Argentinian pontiff's native tongue. 

14. ITS TILTED O MAY HOLD A BAWDY MEANING.

Critics have praised how the tilt of LOVE's "O" makes for a strong design line to the "V." But some have pointed out that this slant might be meant to mirror a mouth or the male anatomy

15. LOVE NO LONGER PAINS INDIANA.

For decades, LOVE was both Indiana’s most popular work and to some degree the bane of his existence. That state of affairs changed in 2008 when Indiana found himself inspired by a long-shot presidential candidate named Barack Obama. In a bid to help promote the Illinois senator in his campaign, the reclusive artist re-emerged with HOPE. This led to Hope Day as well as exhibitions of his work that urged critics and the public alike to reconnect with Indiana. Today, he is favorably compared to other Pop Art pioneers like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons.

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
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History
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.

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