The Farnsworth Art Museum is proud to announce Robert Indiana as the recipient of the 2009 Maine in America award. The award, now in its fourth year, is granted by the Farnsworth Art Museum’s Presidents Council to honor an individual or group who has made an outstanding contribution to Maine’s role in American art. This year’s presentation will occur during the Maine in America Summer Gala, which will take place on June 27, on the museum grounds. The previous winners of the Maine in America award were John Wilmerding (2006), Andrew Wyeth (2007), and Will Barnet (2008).
Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana on September 13, 1928. In 1949 he entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and, upon graduating in 1953, received a scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. In 1954 he attended the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. In 1956 Indiana moved to New York City where he became one of the key members of the Pop Art movement, sharing a loft in Coenties Slip with Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol stopping in for tea. Sculptor Louise Nevelson was also one of his neighbors, living in an apartment nearby.
In 1962 Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery hosted Robert Indiana's first New York solo exhibition. Though Indiana sold nothing in that show, Alfred Barr, the renowned director of the Museum of Modern Art, stopped by after the show had been de-installed, and acquired Indiana’s The American Dream for the museum’s collection. It was exhibited in the subsequent new acquisitions showing at MOMA. By 1964 Indiana had come to national prominence.
Though he had made letters and numbers central elements of his works, a deeply personal and moving tale often lay beneath the surface. Once such example is his 1964 EAT sculpture. In 1964 the famed American modernist architect Philip Johnson commissioned Indiana to create work for the exterior of the New York State Pavilion at the World’s Fair in Flushing, New York. Indiana’s work, his first public commission in a career that became defined in part by his large outdoor sculptures, was a twenty by twenty foot electrified metal sculpture consisting of five six-foot diameter disks spelling out the word EAT. The piece was an instant hit, though in the most unexpected of ways. The Fair drew huge crowds, and the EAT sculpture induced long lines of fair-goers to line up outside the New York State Pavilion, thinking, wrongly, that there was a restaurant inside. The confusion led the fair administrators to turn off the sculpture’s lights just a few days after the piece was installed. It will be shown for the first time since then atop the museum store on Rockland’s Main Street.
The word “eat” had special meaning to Indiana. In 1949, while serving in the Army Air Corps and stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, he was called back to Columbus, Indiana to attend to his gravely ill mother. Upon seeing her son, she awoke from her weakened state, asked if he had anything to eat, and then died.
Since that first exhibition in 1962, Robert Indiana has enjoyed solo exhibitions at over thirty museums and galleries worldwide. He is, of course, best known for his iconic LOVE sculpture. Originally created in 1964 for a Christmas card design for the Museum of Modern Art, the image was reproduced on United States Postal Service postage stamps in 1973, and sculptural versions of the image can be found at institutions around the world. His works are in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Carnegie Institute; the Detroit Institute of Art; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Farnsworth Art Museum among many, many others.
In 2008, Indiana created an image similar to his iconic LOVE, but this time showcasing the word "HOPE.” A stainless steel sculpture of HOPE, which was unveiled outside Denver's Pepsi Center during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, will be on view at the Farnsworth Art Museum as part of the Robert Indiana and the Star of Hope exhibition, which runs at the museum until October 25.
Although Indiana is rightfully identified with the work he created while working in New York, he has lived and worked on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine since 1970. He moved there permanently in 1978 when he acquired the former Odd Fellows lodge, The Star of Hope, facing Carver’s Harbor on the village’s main street. Over the past thirty years Indiana has continued to produce compelling and engaging work, some clearly reflecting the impact his new home and environment has had on him. In this time, and particularly in recent years, his stature has grown and he has become as well known in Europe as in America. The Farnsworth is proud to be honoring his remarkable contributions to American art with the Maine in America Award.
This year, the Maine in America Summer Gala will feature a fabulous culinary experience by Swan’s Way of Lincolnville, music by Bruce Boege and his Bel Isle Trio and Mr. Whoopee Band and Lighting and Audio-Visual Designs by Ambience Lighting Services. Dress is cocktail attire. Cost is $250 per person. All proceeds help support the museum’s public programs. Seating is limited. For more information, or to make a reservation, please call 207-596-6457 ext. 117. For press wishing to contact Robert Indiana, please do so by contacting Kathleen Rogers, at KLR Communications Inc., in Ellsworth, at 207-667-0733.