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Installation view of Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective

Installation view of Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective. From left: The Sweet Mystery, 1959–62; FOUR from ONE through ZERO, 1978–2003; Mate, 1960–62; The Slips, 1959–60; and Womb, 1960. Photograph by Tom Powel Imaging. © Morgan Art Foundation Ltd / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Exhibition Spotlight: Ginkgos and Slips in Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective

August 15, 2018

After moving to New York in 1954, Robert Indiana eventually took up residence on Coenties Slip: one of several historical shipping slips around the southern tip of Manhattan that by the start of the twentieth century had been filled in, becoming streets and parks. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Coenties Slip and its environs were home to both the remnants of New York's seafaring industries and a vibrant community of artists, including Ellsworth Kelly, Indiana's partner and colleague. 

Installation view of Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective

Installation view of Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective. From left: detail of The Sweet Mystery, 1959–62, and detail of Mate, 1960–62. Photograph by Tom Powel Imaging. © Morgan Art Foundation Ltd / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

As a gay artist in the late fifties and early sixties, Indiana frequently deployed subject matter that could be interpreted at face value or, simultaneously, as a coded reference to his own personal experience and identity. For instance, while the yellow forms at the center of The Sweet Mystery may appear to be just abstract shapes to the outside observer, for Indiana, these were stylized double ginkgo leaves, with two leaves paired at the stem, which he associated with his relationship with Kelly. The black-and-red or yellow-and-red caution stripes on many works from this period may allude to Indiana’s circumspect approach to meaning in his art.

Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective is on view through September 23.

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