For Robert Indiana, 'LOVE' was a complicated relationship

Sculptor of Philadelphia icon dead at 89

Dan Wing
May 22, 2018 - 7:52 am
Love Park statue

Credit: Pat Loeb

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio, AP) — Artist Robert Indiana, the man behind one of Philadelphia's most famous landmarks, died on Saturday at the age of 89. He's best known for his iconic "LOVE" sculpture, which is the centerpiece of JFK Plaza in Center City Philadelphia, nicknamed LOVE Park. 

A rendering of Indiana's sculpture was first brought to the park in 1976 as part of bicentennial celebrations but was removed two years later. However it was brought back because of popular demand later that year and has been there almost constantly since. 

The sculpture was recently removed during renovations of the park and was restored just this year and returned when the park re-opened. 

The "LOVE" sculpture was first produced in 1970 and has since been rendered in urban centers around the world.

Indiana died on Saturday from respiratory failure at his Victorian home in a converted Odd Fellows hall, a fraternal order lodge, where he had lived for years on Vinalhaven Island, said James Brannan, his attorney.

Friends had expressed concern for his well-being because the reclusive artist had not been heard from for some time. A lawsuit filed in New York City the day before his death suggested he was purposefully isolated by his caretakers.

Brannan declined to comment on the situation.

"LOVE" is instantly recognizable worldwide, but the artist has created other works as well, and fashioned a "HOPE" design, similar to "LOVE," in honor of former President Barack Obama.

"In some ways he was perhaps seen as the proverbial one-hit wonder because 'LOVE' was so immensely iconic and immensely huge in pop culture. For better or for worse, it overshadowed some of his other contributions," said Dan Mills, the director at Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine.

In his later years, he was known for living an increasingly reclusive life 15 miles off the mainland on Vinalhaven, where he moved in 1978.

Kathleen Rogers, a friend and former publicist, told The Associated Press that she was so concerned she contacted the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to investigate six to eight weeks ago.

Through tears, she said did not want Indiana to be remembered for shutting out friends and closing his studio.

"He was a better guy than he's been portrayed as being. He was reclusive, cantankerous and sometimes difficult. But he was a very loyal, loving man. He was the architect of love," she said.

A DHHS spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

As the story goes, Indiana, who was born in Indiana, settled in Maine after becoming disillusioned with the art scene in New York.

But he told The Associated Press in 2009 that he moved to his house — which a benefactor bought for him — when he needed a place to go after his lease ran out on his five-story studio and gallery in the Bowery section of New York City.

His desire for solitude was legendary.

He once stood up President Barack Obama at the White House. Another time he made a crew from NBC's "Today" show wait days before he would let them interview him. In 2014, he disappointed dozens of fans by failing to make an appearance outside his home for an event dubbed International HOPE Day, which was inspired by his creativity. Events were held in several locations around the world.

Although he created a wealth of art, the iconic "LOVE" tended to overshadow his other work.

Decades later, Indiana's other art took center stage in a 2013 exhibit, "Robert Indiana: Beyond Love," at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. "Well, that's taken a while," he quipped.

In Maine, Mills said he was inspired by the Whitney's efforts to produce a 2016 exhibition, "Robert Indiana: Now and Then." It was one of the last major shows focusing on Indiana's work, Mills said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.