Critics’ Picks

Robert Indiana, Terra Nova,1981, acrylic on canvas, 92 x 79".

Robert Indiana, Terra Nova,1981, acrylic on canvas, 92 x 79".

Saint Petersburg

Robert Indiana

The State Russian Museum
Inzhenernaya str., 4
April 7–July 4, 2016

Love can be a difficult thing to stomach or otherwise endure, and so it is somewhat unsurprising that love is the word that has both made and destroyed Robert Indiana’s artistic legacy. Copies of Love, 1966, can be found in sculptures, T-shirts, and stationary the world over; as the design was never copyrighted, many have the erroneous impression that it enabled Indiana to sell out. The reality, of course, is that the work’s commercial success outside the confines of the art world effectively diminished his seriousness as an artist. Fellow Pop artists such as Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist were protected from such charges because their work was said to issue from an intentionally ironic stance; as Peter Plagens noted in his review of Indiana’s 2013 retrospective at the Whitney, Indiana’s reputation has suffered because of his sincerity. Indeed, art-historical accounts all point to Indiana’s rejection from the zeitgeist’s dominant cliques. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg wanted nothing to do with him, and they actively campaigned to have his work excluded from important group exhibitions. And his long-term relationship with hard-edge abstractionist Ellsworth Kelly came to an end, according to legend, on the day that Indiana began to incorporate words into his paintings.

This current exhibition and accompanying catalogue, co-organized by Galerie Gmurzynska and the first of its kind on Russian soil, seeks to restart the conversation with a look at works from every phase of the artist’s career. There aren’t many paintings, simply because Indiana never made that many. One notable exception is the large-scale acrylic canvas featuring the words Terra Nova, from 1981. The bulk of the exhibition, however, consists of serigraph editions, among which one finds many surprises, such as the rhombus-shaped The Brooklyn Bridge, 1971, a visual interpretation of Hart Crane’s most famous poem.