End to Indiana’s 35-year wait
First New York retrospective will prove there’s more to “blackballed” artist than “Love”
By Anny Shaw. News, Issue 244, March 2013
Published online: 07 March 2013
Robert Indiana is to have his first retrospective in a New York museum, 35 years after he left the city for the remote island of Vinalhaven, off the coast of Maine. The exhibition, which is due to open at the Whitney Museum of American Art in September, holds particular significance for the artist, who feels he was “blackballed” by the New York art world.
The exhibition will span Indiana’s career from 1955 to 2004. It will include rarely seen allegorical works such as Mene Mene Tekel, 1955, and Upharsin, 1992 (altered from Paul Sanasardo, 1955), and collages made in the 1960s and 1970s for “The Mother of Us All” (an opera by Virgil Thomson with a libretto by Gertrude Stein), which have never been exhibited before. “The Hartley Elegies”, 1990-91, ten prints inspired by the Modernist painter and poet Marsden Hartley, will have their first showing in New York. There will also be examples of “Love”, first created in 1965 for a Christmas card commissioned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Indiana moved to New York in 1954, and his lack of a major museum show in the city had been a point of contention for the 84-year-old artist. “In New York, I was blackballed,” he told The Art Newspaper last year. “It started a long time ago. Mainly it was the [art dealer Leo] Castelli gang—Warhol, etc. I have never been given a museum retrospective [there]; all my peers have.”
In 1978, an expired lease and a lack of gallery representation prompted Indiana, who has been represented in New York by Paul Kasmin Gallery since 2002, to leave the city for good. But a recent “swing” in critical reception means that the time is ripe to look again at his work, says Barbara Haskell, the Whitney’s curator of painting and sculpture. “There’s a whole group of critics, including Robert Pincus-Witten and Thomas Crow, who have begun to re-examine Indiana’s work and to see the layered complexity and hidden meanings there,” she says.
In the Whitney’s exhibition catalogue, Rene Barilleaux, the chief curator at the McNay Art Museum in Texas, positions Indiana as a precursor to artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, who use text as image.
Fifteen years after Indiana’s last big retrospective, at Nice’s Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, the Whitney show will, Haskell says, “surprise” viewers by revealing the range of his work and its relation to language and poetry, and the autobiographical strains that run through his work.
“He is the most famous unknown artist; everyone identifies Indiana with ‘Love’,” she says. “He was catapulted to fame in the early 1960s, but by the early 1970s, the proliferation of ‘Love’, which he hadn’t authorised, began to backfire. He was so identified with that image that people couldn’t see beyond it. In this show, even ‘Love’ will be seen in a much different light.”
The retrospective (26 September-mid-January 2014) will travel to the McNay in spring 2014 and to the Wichita Art Museum, Kansas, later that year.
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