Robert Indiana - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "I am an American painter of signs charting the course. I would be a people's painter as well as a painter's painter." 
    —Robert Indiana 

    Robert Indiana’s Picasso was painted during the peak of the artist’s acclaimed career as one of the preeminent figures in Post-War American art. A quintessential example of the artist’s Pop compositions, here Indiana has rendered a series of hard-edged geometries with brilliant colors to commemorate the illustrious career of Pablo Picasso. Through his keen use of signs, numbers, and letters, Indiana pays homage to the legendary Modern masters, relying on his own distinctive visual language that he refined since the early 1960s.


    In an effort to differentiate his work from Post-War European traditions in favor of a distinctly American style, Indiana initially aligned himself with Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein by drawing inspiration from the culture of consumerism that emerged in the United States following World War II. The plethora of billboards, street signs and logos across the country captivated Indiana in his formative years as an artist. Indiana recalls that “in Europe trees grow everywhere; in America, signs grow like trees; signs are more common than trees.”i Proclaiming himself to be a “painter of signs,” the influence of American logos and advertisements is at the core of Indiana’s artistic practice. His engagement with consumerist culture is manifested in the crisp geometries and the chromatic intensity of Picasso that conjure up memories of American highway signs and advertisements.


    Charles Demuth, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949.
    Charles Demuth, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949, Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY

    "Indiana’s art corroborates this new reliance on street and highway signage, and on its chance poetry, on the endless flux of urban messages that ceaselessly buzz in front of our eyes and brain, and on its powerful visual fascination - in which these signs seem to gradually lose their referential meaning, although never quite completely."
    —Joachim Pissaroii

    From Pop to Precisionism 


    In the 1970s, Indiana began to distance himself from Pop Art and embrace his American Modernist predecessors as a major source of inspiration. Precisionist artists such as Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler and Ralston Crawford left a lasting impression on Indiana with their delineated lines and geometric planes used to depict the American industrial landscape. The artist’s fascination with these early American painters comes to full fruition in the sharply demarcated planes that compose Picasso. Indiana’s decision to pay homage to Pablo Picasso through his bold use of signs and numbers harkens back to the “poster portraits” that Charles Demuth painted in the 1920s, each inspired by a different artist, which Indiana saw in Chicago. Much like Demuth’s poster portrait I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, which was an homage to the poet William Carlos Williams, Indiana’s Picasso portrays the Spanish master by means of recognizable symbols, letters and numbers. This includes block letters of his initials, “PP,” placed back-to-back in a symmetrical format, with the artist’s middle name “RUIZ” emblazoned diagonally across. Other markers including his birth and death dates, and the title of one of his most famous paintings Ma Jolie, are placed around the center of the circular composition. By using text-based imagery, like Demuth, Indiana reinvents and pushes the boundaries of traditional, representational portraiture. The product is an homage to Picasso unlike any other that unites the painterly traditions championed by the Precisionist painters with Pop ideology.


    Robert Indiana, LOVE, 1967. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY
    Robert Indiana, LOVE, 1967. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY


    By placing his own trademark slanted “O,” as it appears in his iconic LOVE motif, Indiana inserts his own identity into the narrative of Picasso’s. By paying tribute to his predecessor in this way, Indiana uses the lens of an homage to further his own practice. Signifying the importance of this work, Indiana included a print of the painting in his iconic American Dream Portfolio set of screenprints in 1997, making this one of the most recognizable images in the artist’s oeuvre. 


    i Joachim Pissaro, “Signs into Art,” in Robert Indiana, exh. cat., Musée D’Art Moderne et D’Art Contemporain, Nice, 1998, p. 16.

    ii Ibid.

    • Provenance

      Marisa del Re, New York
      Private Collection, Paris
      Christie’s, New York, February 22, 1996, lot 65
      Private Collection, France
      Michel Fedoroff, Monaco
      Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Christie’s, New York, November 16, 2017, lot 657
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Kennedy Galleries, Artists Salute Skowhegan, December 8–21, 1977, n.p. (illustrated)
      Rockland, Farnsworth Art Museum; Waterville, Colby College Museum of Art; Reading Public Museum; Framingham, Danforth Museum; Manchester, Currier Gallery of Art; Flint Institute of Arts; Pittsfield, Berkshire Museum, Indiana’s Indianas: A 20-Year Retrospective of Painting and Sculpture from the Collection of Robert Indiana, July 16, 1982–March 1984, pp. 14, 22 (illustrated, p. 14)

    • Literature

      Robert L. B. Tobin, William Katz and Donald B. Goodall, Robert Indiana, exh. cat., University of Texas at Austin, University Art Museum, Austin, 1977, p. 53
      John Loring, “Architectural Digest Visits: Robert Indiana,” Architectural Digest, November 1978, p. 112 (illustrated)
      Barbaralee Diamonstein, “Robert Indiana,” Inside New York's Art World, New York, 1979, p. 156
      Ray Koehler, “For Museum Exhibit All You Need Is ‘Love’,” Reading Eagle, January 14, 1983, p. 25
      Tess Panfil, “Robert Indiana Retrospective,” Berkshire Eagle, December 29, 1983, p. 21
      “‘Indiana’s Indianas’ on Display,” Argus-Press, February 24, 1984, p. 7
      Carl J. Weinhardt Jr., Robert Indiana, New York, 1990, pp. 143-144, 183 (illustrated, p. 143)
      Denis Picard, "Nice: Robert Indiana et Georges Rousse," Connaissance des Arts, July/August 1998, p. 21 (illustrated)
      Stephen C. Foster, Robert Indiana, exh. cat., Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, 2002, p. 41

Property from a Private Collection, Florida



stenciled with the artist's name, inscription and date "ROBERT INDIANA 2 NEW YORK SPRING 1974" on the reverse
oil on canvas
60 x 50 in. (152.4 x 127 cm)
Painted in 1974.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $1,058,500

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022