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The power of “LOVE”: how a sculpture became a Pop Art icon

When Robert Indiana created LOVE, he couldn’t imagine that his sculpture would become an unmistakable Pop Art icon.

The artwork achieved a sweeping success, mostly because it carries the explosive strength of a still inspiring, universal message.

It all began with a Christmas postcard

If you think that all Christmas postcards are banal and repetitive, well, be ready to abandon this prejudice forever. Why? One of those postcards, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, left a mark in the world’s history of art. In 1965, the Pop artist Robert Indiana, in order to fulfil the prestigious request of the museum, retrieved from his memories an inscription written on the church that he used to attend when he was a young boy, which read: “God is love.

The Phillips 66

Robert Indiana – this was the stage name that Robert Clark, born in 1928, chose in honor of his country of origin – only picked one word of the inscription: LOVE. Indiana divided the word into syllables and put them on top of each other, to form a square in which an inclined O occupied the top right corner. He used red and green because those were the colours used by Phillips 66, the oil company where Indiana’s father worked at the time. The third color that Indiana chose was blue, a hint at the blue sky on the background of Phillips 66 sign. The postcard reached an immediate success, which convinced, the following year, the United States Postal Service to dedicate a series of postage stamps to Indiana’s artwork. The “Love Stamps”, as they were called, were published alongside many canvases such as: LOVE WALL (RED/GREEN/BLUE), THE GREAT LOVE, IMPERIAL LOVE, LOVE CROSS, LOVE RISING/BLACK AND WHITE LOVE (FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING).

 “The love that moves the sun and the other stars”

However, what turned a simple, straightforward, yet immensly meaningful word like “love” into a real icon was its newly acquired three-dimensional shape. As the “American dream” crumbled and young protesters crowded the town squares all over the world, Indiana worked the universal need for love, peace and hope into steel and polychrome aluminium. That was also how LOVE, THE ELECTRIC WALL, LOVE WALL were born. And just like love – the creative force of the universe – is unstoppable, the spread of the word-image LOVE was already in motion and out of control. The process was also helped by the artist’s failure (or refusal) to copyright his artwork. LOVE was reproduced, like every Pop Art artwork worthy of its name, in both authorized and unauthorized forms and on the most diverse supports. Indiana even created LOVE in other languages like Latin/Spanish (AMOR) and Hebrew  (AHAVA), and adopted the same “sign” layout for other sculptures featuring universal words such as HOPE and ART.

Love, love, love

The “Love sculptures” have literally invaded the streets and the squares of the United States – one among all, the Love Park in Philadelphia – and Canada. They crossed the oceans and also arrived in Europe and Asia. Even if the original sculpture is exhibited at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the world’s most celebrated and photographed version is the one in New York City. It is located on Sixth Avenue, a few minutes’ walk from the Strawberry Fields Memorial in Central Park. The memorial is dedicated to John Lennon, and it should come as no surprise that the songwriter, back in the sixties, sang “All you need is love”.

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