Robert Indiana's "LOVE" sculpture – with the letters stacked in a block pattern, and the "O" tilted on its side – is one of the most iconic artworks of the 1960s and '70s.
The pop art sculpture is in museums and public areas, and the concept has turned up on all kinds of tchotchkes like T-shirts, coffee mugs and post cards, as well as on a U.S. postage stamp.
On Friday, a classic representation of the image, in 8-foot-tall red, blue and green letters, made of polychrome aluminum, was installed outside the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, near the recently placed "ART" sculpture, a slightly later work by Indiana. Both works are in Buffalo for the upcoming exhibition, "Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective," which opens Friday and runs through Sept. 23.
Indiana's "NUMBERS ONE through ZERO," consisting of 10 8-foot-tall and 2,000-pound steel sculptures, will be on loan on the Outer Harbor. Visitors will find it at Wilkeson Pointe, a popular summertime destination, during the duration of the Albright-Knox retrospective.
Indiana, whose real last name was Clark, died on May 19 in Vinalhaven, Maine, at age 89. The show, which was put together by Joe Lin-Hill, the Albright's deputy director, will travel to the Tampa Museum of Art in October.
It's the first major show on Indiana since the one hosted by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2013, which was the first major museum exhibition on him in about a quarter-century.
The career-spanning exhibition will show that, while Indiana's career was in many ways overshadowed by "LOVE's" ubiquity and popularity, that concept didn't come close to defining his work, Lin-Hill said.
Visitors will see rare finds that reveal a continuity of work that spans six decades, and a breadth of ideas that cross many media, Lin-Hill said.
"What's important is that the exhibition introduces bodies of work that have previously not been a focal point of critical and curatorial interest," he said.
"LOVE" fans are also in for a treat.
"There are things that have not been seen publicly before, including 'LOVE' sculptures in marble and semi-precious stone," he said.
"LOVE" emerged through a series of drawings Indiana made in 1964, some of which will be in the exhibition. That same year, Indiana debuted his "LOVE" series at a New York gallery.
It was disseminated widely as a Christmas card by the Museum of Modern Art in 1965.
"LOVE" was conceived in different sizes, colorations and media before being turned into a sculpture in 1966, Lin-Hill said. The one outside the Albright-Knox, fabricated in 1998, is the largest version of a single structure. The rendition of "LOVE" that debuted in Central Park in 1970 consisted of four individual letters pushed together and standing 12-feet high.
Indiana had a love-hate relationship with "LOVE."
He didn't copyright the image initially, which led to widespread reproductions he didn't make a penny on and which cheapened his reputation among New York artists.
"It was very much a double-edged sword," Lin-Hill said. "It wasn't very well understood that he wasn't behind the coffee mugs and the T-shirts. So, in a certain sense people within the art world felt he had sort of sold-out when it was something he couldn't control."
Indiana was as famous as Andy Warhol – if not more so – in the early 1960s, before he created the "LOVE" image, Lin-Hill said. The artist's first solo show was in 1962 at the Stable Gallery in New York, where the Albright-Knox made its first acquisition of Indiana's work. It was followed by Warhol's first solo show. In 1964, the artists were depicted alongside one another at the World's Fair in Queens.
But "LOVE" in some ways drowned out his career.
"The work eclipsed its maker," Lin-Hill said. "Everyone knows the 'LOVE' sculpture, but very few people know very much about Robert Indiana."
Unlike Jackson Pollock, who is associated with his drip pictures, Indiana was almost disassociated from "LOVE."
Lin-Hill said he'll be happy if the retrospective succeeds in presenting viewers with a much fuller picture of Indiana's work, one far more resonant than many have assumed.