Indiana was born in 1928 at New Castle, Indiana, as Robert Clark. Between 1945 and 1948 he studied at art schools in Indianapolis and Utica, and from 1949 to 1953 at the Chicago Art Institute School and the Skowhgan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine. In 1953 and 1954 he studied at the Edinburgh College of Art and London University, after which he settled in New York. He became friends with the painters Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Youngerman. His early works were inspired by traffic signs (like Allan D'Arcangelo), automatic amusement machines (like Richard Lindner), commercial stencils and old tradenames (like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstei. In the early sixties he did sculpture assemblages and developed his style of vivid color surfaces, involving letters, words and numbers (like Jim Dine and Jasper johns). In 1966 he had exhibitions in Düsseldorf, Eindhoven (Van Abbemuseum), Krefeld (Museum Haus Lange) and Stuttgart (Württembergische Kunstverein). He was represented at the documenta "4" exhibition, Kassel, in 1968. He became known for silkscreen prints, posters and sculptures which took the word LOVE as their theme. The brash directness of these works stemmed from their symmetrical arrangements of color and form. In 1999, the Portland Museum of Art presented a major retrospective of Indiana's work; the following comments are based upon their introduction to the show:
Love and the American Dream: The Art of Robert Indiana explores the two central themes of Robert Indiana's artistic career. Although Indiana came to prominence during the 1960s as a Pop artist, his concerns have always differed greatly from those of his contemporaries. National and cultural identity have always held more interest for Indiana than the mass media and trappings of consumer culture. As a self-styled American icon, his influences, methods, and outlook mirror that of his native country. What distinguishes Indiana from his "Pop" colleagues is the depth of his personal engagement with his subject matter: America and American life. Indiana's works all speak to the vital forces that have shaped American culture in the late half of the 20th century: personal and national identity, political and social upheaval and stasis, the rise of consumer culture, and the pressures of history. In a word, the American Dream.
The American Dream is the cornerstone of Indiana's mature work. The roots of this powerful concept pervaded the artist's Depression-era childhood, as well as the social and political aspirations of the United States during his formative years as an artist (1940s-1960s). It was the theme of his first major painting (sold to The Museum of Modern Art in 1961), as well as a series of works that continues to the present (the artist finished The Seventh American Dream in 1998). Indiana's process of reconstructing and redefining the American Dream has taken many forms: his political paintings, like The Confederacy: Alabama (1965); his literary paintings, like The Calumet (1961); and his autoportraits and investigations of celebrity and identity, like The Metamorphosis of Norma Jean Mortenson (1963-1967).
Indiana also created one of the most widely recognized works of art in the world: Love. Despite the popularity of this image—or perhaps because of it— many critics have dismissed him as a designer, an opportunist, and a "one-hit-wonder." Much of Indiana's important contribution to American art has been overshadowed by the proliferation, pirating, and mass production of works bearing the image of LOVE, yet this is also a vital and important part of his career. Love is also part of the artist's rethinking of the American Dream.
Selected Public Collections: Indiana's works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam, The Netherlands; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Detroit Institute of Art, Michigan; Allentown Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland; Brandeis Museum, Waltham, Massachusetts; Albright-Knox Gallery of Art, Buffalo, New York; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware; Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany; Los Angeles County Museum, California; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C., Indiana State University, the Marian Koogler McNay Art Museum in San Antonio,Texas, the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolic, the Portland Museum of Art, and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah.
Selected Solo Exhibitions: Love and the American Dream: The Art of Robert Indiana, the Portland Museum of Art (Portland OR); the Virginia Lust Gallery, New York; Lorenzelli Arte, Milan; the National Museum of American Art, Washington DC; the William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; Multiples, New York; the Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Newberger Museum, Purchase, New York; the University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin; the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia; the Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts, New Mexico; Galerie Denise René, New York; Galerie Im Haus Behr, Hindenburgbau, Stuttgart; Galerie De Gestlo, Bremen; Overbeck Gesellschaft, Lubeck; Galerie Christoph Durr, Munich; Galerie Droscher-Furneisen, Hamburg; Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruge; Amerika Haus, Berlin; the Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine; the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; Creighton University, Omaha; Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana; Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine; the Institute of Contemporary Art of the University of Pennsylvania.