Tuesday, May 8, 2012

No Love Lost Between Artist & Dealer

Love sculpture by pop artist Robert Indiana
Renowned pop artist Robert Indiana is being sued by a Monaco-based art dealer for renouncing the authenticity of sculptures once valued as high as $1 million. Best known for his 1964 block letter creation featuring an L-O arranged on top of a V-E, Indiana's works are part of the permanent collection of major museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. The LOVE design was featured on an 8-cent U.S. postage stamp issued on Valentine's Day in 1973.

Conceived in a time when the United States was consumed by the Vietnam War, LOVE became a symbol for Peace. This famous sculpture is one of the most celebrated works within the pop art movement as well the art world as a whole.

The iconography first appeared in a series of poems originally written in 1958, in which Indiana stacked LO and VE on top of one another. The first LOVE sculpture was carved out of a solid block of aluminum, highly unpolished, that the pop artist had made for a show at the Stable Gallery in 1966. The idea for the sculptural piece originated from a visit to a Christian Science church in Indianapolis, where Robert was taken by an adorned banner that read "GOD is LOVE." He then created a painting for an exhibition held in what was formerly a Christian Science church. It depicted the reverse of the previous banner, stating "LOVE is GOD."

Shortly after, Indiana was commissioned to design a Christmas card for the Museum of Modern Art, for which he made three small paintings of the word love in red, blue and green. These cards were printed in 1965 and since have been the most popular card MoMA has ever published. Since then LOVE has become a cultural icon and has been used extensively throughout the art world and media, with and without the artist's approval.

According to the lawsuit filed in superior court in Rockland, Maine, art buyer Joao Tovar paid $481,625 for 10 sculptures of the word PREM, a Sanskrit term meaning "love," from John Gilbert, a one-time business partner of renowned pop artist Robert Indiana. He states that he bought the artwork in good faith believing that Indiana had officially licensed their production.

Indiana, who lives on an island off the Maine coast, renounced the sculptures in a 2009 letter to New York dealer Simon Salama-Caro, saying they had been conceived by Gilbert in India and made without his permission. The move led auction house Christie's to remove them from an upcoming sale. Indiana's denial of his approval "rendered the sculptures worth little more than the materials from which they were made," says the suit, which was filed April 30, 2012.

Tovar says that he relied upon a 2008 certificate of authenticity provided by Gilbert that includes Indiana's signature and the words "To Tovar" at the bottom of the page near Gilbert's signature. Court filings show that Indiana acknowledged that the signature on the document was his but that it was meant as a souvenir for Tovar, rather than acknowledgement that the work was his.

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