In Robert Indiana’s universe, love and hope grow on trees. Indiana is widely celebrated as an eminent figure of American Pop Art—known, in particular, for cleverly utilizing advertising imagery to subvert popular culture and consumption. His most recent sculptures and screenprints are editioned replicas of his own iconic “LOVE” works from the ’60s and “HOPE” pieces that he first created during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. Over the past few years, Indiana has created paintings and sculptures of individual letters in what has become his signature font. So in a sense, the words that have become as associative as the very images that he initially set out to lampoon, have become further disassembled, catering to the collector’s desire to make the object his or her own.
The show, “Don’t Lose HOPE,” is similarly aware of the culture of mass production of artist editions. Upon entry to the first floor of the exhibition, 16 silkscreens line the walls with Indiana’s recognizable, almost kaleidoscopic visions of hope. Twelve sculptures in aluminium stand stoic on pedestals; among them is a special edition of the largest HOPE sculpture, now in several prominent public locations around the world. In its red and blue varnish, it speaks to America, and possibly, to the Union Jack of Indiana’s brief past in the United Kingdom (he studied at the Edinburgh College of Art). The word repeats itself with such vigor that standing before the works, its optimism seems to shift into desperation.
Downstairs, more letters can be seen, but two works on paper from 1945, hanging together on a lone wall, stand out amid the loudness of color. One work portrays a woman waiting at a bus depot, while the other shows another woman on a bus. Rendered in a social realist style inspired by Reginald Marsh, the images offer up protagonists behind the abundance of typographical works. Though figurative in style and narrative in nature, the world Indiana depicts in these paintings, filled with desires and class politics, is not unrelated to the world that his text works evoke. The letters, after all, are forced to conform, to fit in the square that contains them, in the lexicon that dictates their shape.
—Himali Singh Soin
“Don’t Lose HOPE” is on view at Contini Art UK, Oct. 13, 2015 – Jan. 31, 2016.