After two months of conservation treatment, Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture is back on display in a new location inside the galleries at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Completed in 1970 and accepted as the original version of Indiana’s LOVE sculptures, the beloved icon now welcomes guests as they enter the Pulliam Family Great Hall on Floor 2 of the museum building. The sculpture is displayed in the round, as originally intended by the artist.
LOVE was removed from outdoor display in January to undergo critical conservation treatment. The IMA worked with outdoor sculpture conservation expert Abigail Mack and Alfred Lippincott, a representative from the company that originally fabricated the piece, to develop a conservation plan for the sculpture. Prolonged contact with water had caused LOVE’s material, Cor-Ten steel, to corrode over time. The combination of Indiana’s climate and the shape of the sculpture had resulted in uneven drying, which accelerated the deterioration. The uneven drying had also caused red, orange streaks on the surface of the sculpture, altering the intended appearance of the work. Water penetrated the interior of the sculpture and became trapped, triggering internal corrosion and weakening the metal, which resulted in holes and split seams throughout the sculpture.
Indiana was one of the first artists to work with Cor-Ten steel. When it came into use in the 1960s, little was known about how the material would withstand the outdoor elements over an extended period of time. Many of Indiana’s other works, including his later LOVE sculptures, are made using painted aluminum. The paint provides a smooth, glossy finish and an added layer of protection to endure the elements.