Artist Robert Indiana, Creator Of “LOVE” Series, Dies At 89

The gay artist created one of the most famous pieces of 20th century art, but would later come to regret its massive popularity.

Pop artist Robert Indiana has passed away at the age of 89.

Indiana was best known for his iconic “LOVE” series, with the word rendered two letters atop the other, with the “O” at an angle. It was first created as a commission for the Museum of Modern Art’s Christmas card in 1965, and gained wider attention in 1973 when it was featured on a stamp by the U.S. Postal Service.

The artist also created a number of “LOVE” sculptures that have been displayed around the world, including versions in Hebrew, Chinese, Italian, and Spanish.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

In 2008, Indiana created a “HOPE” version and donated all proceeds from the sale of prints to the Obama campaign, as well as unveiling a sculpture outside Denver’s Pepsi Center during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

He was also commissioned to design a the Milwaukee Bucks’s basketball court, featuring the arena’s nickname, the MECCA, and with two giant yellow M’s.

Additionally, he was the star of Andy Warhol’s 1964 film Eat, in which he ate a mushroom.

Indiana, who was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, served three years in the Air Force before studying art in Chicago, Maine, and Edinburgh, Scotland, before settling in New York City.

He passed away at his home in Maine on Saturday from respiratory failure, according to his attorney James Brannan.

Taylor Hill/WireImage
Indiana attends The Whitney Museum of American Art’s opening dinner party hosted by MaxMara at the museum’s new location on April 24, 2015 in New York City.

There had been concern in recent years, as friends reported being unable to reach Indiana. A suit was filed the day before his death, with an art publisher alleging the artist’s caretaker was isolating him from loved ones and exploiting him for monetary gain.

While the rest of his work has been largely overshadowed by the popularity of the “LOVE” series, which he would come to regret, there has been a growing appreciation of his full catalog in recent years.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

“He was an artist of consequence who gets mistaken for a one-hit wonder,” Maxwell Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, told The New York Times in 2008.

“’LOVE’ bit me,” Indiana said in 2014, NPR reports. “It was a marvelous idea, but it was also a terrible mistake. It became too popular; it became too popular. And there are people who don’t like popularity. It’s much better to be exclusive and remote. That’s why I’m on an island off the coast of Maine, you see.

“There’s a new wave of critics today who are reappraising Indiana in the context of Pop Art, seeing how he inflects it with the darker side of the American dream,” Barbara Haskell, a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, said.

“The work he did in the ’60s in particular is very powerful, both dark and celebratory, with layers of autobiographical and cultural references. It’s not this superficial, optimistic, clichéd work that some people associate with his monumental sculpture.”

Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Robert Storr, the dean of the Yale University School of Art, told The Art Newspaper there has been a critical resurgence around Indiana’s work due to an “overt queering of art history” by a younger generation of historians reading the work as including coded expressions of homosexuality.

The late artist said in an interview with Art in America in 2008 that while he was in New York he was “out to some but not to others.”

Journalist, editor, and artist.