Professor Susan Elizabeth Ryan recently recorded a roundtable discussion at the Whitney Museum which will become part of the catalog for the upcoming exhibition, Robert Indiana: The American Dream September 26, 2013-January 2014 (curated by Barbara Haskell). Professor Ryan was invited as one of the authorities on the artist’s work. She wrote the monograph, Robert Indiana: Figures of Speech, published by Yale University Press in 2000.
The American Pop artist Robert Indiana is best known for his LOVE paintings and sculptures that since the 1960s have appeared as paperweights, on postage stamps, and in every medium from gold to chocolate. But Indiana’s career adds up to a lot more than this image. He has produced—and produces—an ongoing, interrelated body of work in a range of media. When Alfred H. Barr, Jr., first saw Indiana’s American Dream #1, he called it “spellbinding.” And indeed, these brilliantly colored, often dizzyingly patterned artworks, here interpreted so precisely and sensitively by Susan Elizabeth Ryan, do project a powerful and unforgettable magic.
This book is the first in-depth analysis of Indiana’s early career, from his maturation as an artist in the late 1950s, through the early 1970s, the peak of the proliferation of LOVE. Ryan shows how Indiana’s oeuvre throughout this period is involved with the rhetoric of the American dream and shaped by the artist’s intense engagement with American literature and poetry. The author argues that Indiana’s strident visual language emerges from his tendency to recast his life in story and verse, a fact that unlocks complex and secret tissues of figurative meaning within the deceptively simple canvases. By illuminating the enigmas in Indiana’s word and image combinations, she helps explain the longevity of LOVE and its influence on a later generation of artists.