By The Numbers

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My last project at the Indianapolis Museum of Art before leaving in June probably was my favorite project, mainly because I got to work directly with Indianapolis' best known and perhaps least locally appreciated hometown artist, Robert Indiana. Sure, I know folks appreciate his "LOVE", but did you know that he spent his first 17 years living in and around the city and graduating second in his class from Arsenal Tech?  Through talking to him over the years, I know that he still keeps a close eye on Indiana politics and current events. 

Robert Indiana with Herb Simon in Indiana’s Maine studio in 1980. - IMAGE COURTESY THE COLUMBIAN
  • Image courtesy The Columbian
  • Robert Indiana with Herb Simon in Indiana’s Maine studio in 1980.

So, with help from the artists himself, and all sorts of folks inside and outside of the museum, I put together an exhibition that explores the history of Indiana's iconic "Numbers."  These eight-foot tall polychrome aluminum sculptures numbering 1 to 0 were made in the very early 1980s as a marketing strategy for Melvin Simon & Associates (we know them today as Simon Property Group). 

Not many know the story of how or why the "Numbers" were made, so I set out to tell their story, and also show how I restored them in this exhibition, I told a little bit of this story over on the IMA's blog when I was just getting started with the restoration project.  The "Numbers" are important artworks not only in the trace of Indiana's career but also for the city of Indianapolis and also the IMA.  At the time they were made, Indiana considered them his "most significant commission to date." 

Simon commissioned Indiana to make them as a way to celebrate the company's 20th year and envisioned them being used around the country as markers to celebrate different aspects of their mall properties. To their generosity, the Simons also always envisioned them eventually being permanently installed at the IMA and so gave them to the museum in 1989 where they have been on continuous view in a variety of different configurations. 

As far as I can tell, they were only placed at one mall property, the company's 50th mall in Virginia.  The 1 was placed at their previous downtown headquarters, but I've never seen an image of it. They were installed in a variety of interesting ways here in this city before they went to the IMA. 

1, 2, and 3 on Display on Memorial Plaza at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1982 International Sports Festival. - IMAGE COURTESY THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR
  • Image courtesy The Indianapolis Star
  • 1, 2, and 3 on Display on Memorial Plaza at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1982 International Sports Festival.
2 and 1 on Display at the Going Away Party for The Children’s Museum Director, Mildred Compton (she worked there for 21 years). - IMAGE COURTESY THE CHILDREN'S MUSEUM OF INDIANAPOLIS
  • Image courtesy The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
  • 2 and 1 on Display at the Going Away Party for The Children’s Museum Director, Mildred Compton (she worked there for 21 years).

Many know that Indiana has always been interested in numbers and has explored their importance in marking his life in a variety of artworks.  One of his best told stories about living in Indiana is that on the weekends he would drive around with his parents to one of the 21 different homes in which he lived and his mother would identify the home as "the first," or "second," or "fifth." 

Over the years at the IMA, Indiana has worked with the staff to create innovative ways to install all ten of the "Numbers."  The most recent installation, which has the sculptures somewhat hidden on the back terrace, has the "Numbers" arranged to mimic a 19th century print that describes the "Ten Stages of Man," with one being birth and 0 being death. 

The exhibition, "Robert Indiana By The Numbers" will be on view until early next year.  Please go see it and tell me what you think. 

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