Gallery showcases American pop art iconIn an interview with Art News, an American art magazine, in 1963, Robert Indiana was asked whether he thought pop art was considered “easy art.”
As an emerging painter in the New York pop art scene, the genre he was most frequently associated with although he preferred calling himself “a sign painter,” his answer was “yes.”
He said, “As opposed to one eminent critic’s dictum that great art must necessarily be difficult, pop is instant art.”
Indeed, there is an instant pleasure in looking at the aluminum cuttings of Indiana’s sculptures. The surfaces of the works, smooth and glossy, and covered with industrial paints, resonate a strange beauty in the symmetrical arrangement of color and form. Conceptually, they are clear without the arrogance seen in many works that seek artistic significance, one of the reasons why Indiana’s art has such popular appeal.
More than 300 million copies of his 1973 “Love” stamp have been issued, probably the most widely distributed pop image to date.
In 1987, for example, the famous “Love” emblem was appropriated and replaced with four letters of the AIDS logo as part of the worldwide AIDS campaign.
At Gallery Hyundai, some of Indiana’s major works, including the “love” project and his “number” series, which were exhibited at outdoor spaces on Park Avenue in New York City, are on display.
It was in the early 1960s that Indiana, 76, started making sculptural assemblages using letters, words and numbers.
The origins of his work are derived strictly from his childhood experiences in the Midwest. The vivid colors he used to paint letters and numbers made reference to the neon signs and game machines at the roadside restaurants where his mother worked. He also used bright red and green from his father’s gasoline-company truck and images he recalled from a childhood spent on busy highways.
The “number” series displays a marvelous sense of irony about the state of the country, showing how people had begun to identify their lives with numerical order through road signs, addresses, phone numbers and various codes on ID cards.
But as is the case with many other American pop artists of his time, who were known for meticulously creating enigmatic persona, there are signs that Indiana also deliberately self-styled himself as an icon of the American dream.
The changing of his name from Robert Clark to Indiana, his native state, is one indication that the artist deliberately used his persona as an extension of his work to become the symbol of roadside America.
Perhaps because of the popularity of his image, both as an artist and an art celebrity, many critics have dismissed him as a designer and an opportunist.
Much of Indiana’s work has been extensively pirated and mass-produced, especially the works bearing the image of “LOVE.”
Then again, that may be exactly why his work is still considered an icon of the American dream.
The images of his colored geometric art that are featured in museum shops in New York reflect the critical condition of the American art world today, questioning the meaning of art in the age of mass production and digital technology.
by Park Soo-mee
The exhibition continues at Gallery Hyundai through Jan. 16. For more information, call (02) 734-6111.