Skip to Content

Found 27 Resources

Archives Reveal Touching Stories on the Life of Robert Indiana, the Man Who Invented “LOVE”

Smithsonian Magazine

“Robert Indiana was born in the state of the same name in 1928,” began a short biographical description handwritten by the artist for the catalog of his first solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in 1962: “He studied in Chicago and Edinburgh and returned from a travelling fellowship to live (sic) paint on the New York waterfront. Here in his first one-man show he recapitulates salient events in one American life.”

While the artist would become inextricably linked to his LOVE design and the Pop art movement, Indiana’s broader body of work—infused with numbers, words and symbols—incorporates autobiographical, literary and historical references to make hard-edged elegies to the American dream.

Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana in 1928, the painter, sculptor and poet who would adopt the name Indiana—what he called his “nom de brush”—died on May 19, 2018 at the age of 89. He would become, as author and scholar Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, first noted, “the man who invented Love.”

LOVE in all its iterations—translated by the artist into Spanish and Hebrew for sculptures; painted into an unprintable four-letter word after a falling out with Ellsworth Kelly; or repurposed in 2008 as HOPE in a print made as a fundraiser for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign—is often shorthand for Indiana’s artistic output. Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum notes that while Indiana was associated with Pop artists such as James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, he was different. “They were focusing our perceptions on the products of our consumer society. LOVE was not about consumer culture but the emotions through which we live our lives.”

That Indian never copyrighted his widely-imitated LOVE design was something of a scourge to the artist, who amassed a large collection of knock-offs. But the more personal revelations in the work are not as easily plagiarized as its graphic lines: In various interviews, Indiana points to LOVE as taking inspiration from spiritual rather than erotic origins, but, like much of his work, his LOVE painting of 1966 is saturated in color and autobiography.

Image by Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture records, 1946-2013. Archives of American Ar. Robert Indiana and a student at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 1969 (original image)

Image by Mary Swift. Photograph of Robert Indiana with Decade Autoportrait 1969 (72 in.), not before 1972. (original image)

Image by Mary Swift, photographer. Mary Swift papers, circa 1970-2005. Archives of American Art. Portrait of Robert Indiana in his studio, c. 1980s (original image)

Image by Nancy Astor, photographer. Stable Gallery records, 1916-1999, bulk, 1953-1970. Archives of American Art. Alan Groh and Robert Indiana (right) installing a show at the Stable Gallery, 1964 (original image)

Robert Indiana’s LOVE design is represented in collections across the Smithsonian Institution along with other works of his art. These exemplify and offer insight into the full scope of the artist’s career.

Oral histories at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art’s include many interviews with artists who discuss their friendship with Indiana and his work, but among the most insightful is the 1963 interview with the artist himself conducted by Richard Brown Baker, a collector of contemporary art.

In it, Indiana speaks at length about his unsettled childhood and early education—aggravated by his mother’s tendency towards wanderlust that saw the family moving to 21 houses by the time he was 17— his interest in poetry and literature and his time living at Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan among a community of artists that included Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Lenore Tawney and Jack Youngerman.

A Christmas Card found in the papers Dorothy Miller, who was a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, provides a preview of LOVE in its early concept stage. As the Archives’ curator of manuscripts Mary Savig describes in her book Handmade Holiday Cards from 20th-Century Artists:

One of the first iterations of Robert Indiana’s most publicly adored subject, the LOVE motif, was a card sold by MoMA in 1965. For his holiday card of 1964, Indiana had made pencil rubbings of the word LOVE, complete with his signature slanted O; one recipient of his card was MoMA curator Dorothy Miller. The following year MoMA commissioned from Indiana a more-colorful take on the original design for its holiday-card line.

The greeting card Robert Indiana sent to Dorothy C. Miller, 1964 (. Dorothy C. Miller papers, 1853-2013, bulk 1920-1996. Archives of American Art)

In 1964, the same year Robert Indiana sent out his LOVE holiday card, he collaborated on a film, Eat, with Andy Warhol, in which, through the wizardry of film editing, Indiana eats a continually replenishing mushroom for 35 minutes. For the New York World’s Fair, he was one of ten artists commissioned by Phillip Johnson to create an artwork for the New York State Pavillion’s curved facade. Indiana’s creation, a 20-foot tall sign of five black circles arranged like the face of a five-sided die with letters that lit up to spell out EAT, was sandwiched between works by Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Rauchenberg. The words EAT, DIE, HUG and ERR would be conceits that Indiana returned to time and again—Mecklenburg calls them “iconic commands”—with EAT, the last word his mother said to him before she died, being one of the most profoundly autobiographical.

In a humorous take on the word, Philadelphia art curators Joan Kron and Audrey Sabol modified Indiana’s World’s Fair design into a brooch manufactured by Tiffany for their Genuine Electric Company—one of several business enterprises the women co-owned. After a write up on their projects in the New York Times, they received many inquiries about the pin, some of which are found in Kron’s papers in the Archives. Among them is a note from Mrs. Daniel D. Krakauer of Great Neck, Long Island, asking where she can get one of the EAT brooches to wear at her husband’s surprise 50th birthday party: “I can’t think of a better way of announcing that ‘Supper is Being Served’ than by ‘lighting up. . .’” The letter takes on a sly irony; officials at the World’s Fair had to order Indiana’s sign to be turned off after only one day, because crowds were flocking to the pavilion mistaking it for a food venue. As Indiana wrote, “Too many people had reacted, that first day, to the imperative.”

In 1974, after the Smithsonian received the art collection of financier and philanthropist Joseph Hirshhorn, and opened the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as a national museum of contemporary art, the Smithsonian Associates commissioned four posters for opening day, including one by Robert Indiana with an eye-popping blue star and a bold graphic design.

At the time of the museum’s opening there were only two early Indiana paintings—The Eateria, 1962 and Beware-Danger American Dream #4, 1963—in the Hirshhorn collection. Both, says Evelyn Hankins, the Hirshhorn’s senior curator, “are iconic examples of Robert Indiana’s way of using American vernacular, such as road signs, to create striking artworks at the core of Pop art.”

Indiana's opening-day poster, says the Hirshhorn's Evelyn Hankins, “is very representational as to why Robert Indiana is pivotal to the Pop art world—his use of hard-edge graphics, which are sometimes celebratory and sometimes ask tough questions about the darker side of the American dream.” (Hirshhorn)

Indiana’s opening-day poster, says Hankins “with its graphic bold star and limited color palette,” not only fit well into the collection and the artist’s oeuvre, but was “very representational as to why Robert Indiana is pivotal to the Pop art world—his use of hard-edge graphics, which are sometimes celebratory and sometimes ask tough questions about the darker side of the American dream.” In this case, especially, celebratory.

Art critic Lucy Lippard declared Indiana an “out-and-out romantic,” noting that the artist’s “contribution has been the marriage of poetry and geometric clarity via the inclusion of American literature and history in a non-objective art.”

His romantic tendencies are evident in his columnar sculptures made from found wood and objects, including those housed in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. According to the museum’s Virginia Mecklenburg, who curated the artist’s solo 1984 exhibition “Wood Works: Constructions by Robert Indiana,” these pieces are indicative of his intelligence and working process. “He wanted to make concepts totemic. He saw his sculptures as totems, like the stele that served as way finders along Roman roads in ancient times. Indiana’s sculptures represent presence, power, individuality, as well as words, signs, symbols, ways to mark emotion, places. There was intentionality—these things were on his mind.”

Robert Indiana's Five. (Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of the artist)

At the time of the 1984 exhibition, Indiana gifted his painting The Figure Five and the museum purchased his sculpture Five. Both are riffs on Charles Demuth’s painting I Saw the Figure 5 in Goldmade as a response to William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Great Figure,” written after an encounter with a fire truck whizzing by on a rainy Manhattan night—and are cornerstones of the museum’s Indiana holdings.

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
moving . . . .

“Bob liked the idea of the sculpture and painting being together,” Mecklenburg recounts. “Demuth was influenced by Williams’ experiential poem—speed, light, the sound of the clanging fire truck—Bob found another way to express this that was of the moment.”

Asked about what it was like working with Indiana on the exhibition, Mecklenburg says Indiana was shy but still allowed her access to his personal journals, pages of which are reproduced in the show’s catalog. “He was quite amazing . . . he was a friend,” she says. “He had a profound sense of American history, naming himself for the state where he grew up—he wasn’t Robert Massachusetts! It was an assertion of Middle America, and that says something about what he valued.”

As he told Diamonstein, “when I was a kid, my mother used to drive my father to work in Indianapolis, and I would see, practically every day of my young life, a huge Phillips 66 sign. So it is the red and green of that sign against the blue Hoosier sky. The blue in the Love is cerulean. Therefore my Love is an homage to my father.”

At the end of Robert Indiana’s oral history interview, Richard Brown Baker suggested that the artist had not been “entirely revealing,” but Mecklenburg argues that Indiana grants a great deal of access to the viewer willing to do a deep reading of his work. Indiana, she says, “was a man who made his mark on the world through his art.”

In fact, Indiana, who saw himself as a painter of signs, once asserted, “I paint the American scene.”

As he laid out plainly in the artists’ statement for the Stable Gallery: “My art is a disciplined high dive—high soar, simultaneous & polychromous, an exaltation of the verbal-visual . . . my dialogue.”

Exhibition Poster: Robert Indiana, Kunst Markt , Köln

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Art exhibition poster with entire image made up of German text in yellow, black and red. At top is "KUNST" (Art); at center, KÖLN (Cologne) is arranged with KÖ on top of LN (like the shape of Indiana's LOVE sculpture of 1966). "MARKT" is below. More text is at bottom.


Smithsonian American Art Museum


Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Circular gilt metal ring with “LO / VE” in thick sculptural block letters.


Smithsonian American Art Museum
In the 1960s, the word “love” became a touchstone for America’s hippie movement and Robert Indiana’s composition was widely accepted as a symbol of its progressive aspirations. Indiana originally made the work as a Christmas card in 1965 and later made prints, sculptures, and paintings based on the design. Commercial ventures soon co-opted the image for merchandise. Unfortunately, Indiana had not declared copyright on his famous work, so never profited from its prolific commercial reproduction.

Pop Art Prints, 2014

Robert Indiana greeting card to Dorothy C. Miller

Archives of American Art
Greeting Card : 1 folded sheet : ill. ; 21 x 21 cm. Front of card features a lithograph of Indiana's "Love" sculpture. Sheet folded twice.
Written inside card: Dorothy, My Best, Bob
Also inside is an embossed stamp which reads: Robert Indiana, 25 Coenties Slip, New York, New York, USA 1964.

Louise Nevelson and Robert Indiana at a party

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 26 x 21 cm. Item is inscribed (handwritten): For Louise with Love - Bob '71.

Nevleson and Indiana with another man at a house party.

The Eateria

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Beware-Danger American Dream #4

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series with Barbara Haskell

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Barbara Haskell is a long-time curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art and a well-known scholar on American modern art. Among the landmark exhibitions she has curated are The American Century: Art & Culture, 1900-1950 ; BLAM! The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism, and Performance, 1958-1964; Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color; Georgi a O'Keeffe: Abstraction; and Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE, on view at the Whitney September 26, 2013-January 23, 2014. Haskell will discuss the works of Robert Indiana, creator of one of the iconic images of twentiethcentury pop art, LOVE. A popular culture hit, the design appeared, without Indiana's permission, on a wide range of commercial products. His attempt to reclaim the image from a cliché by remaking it in multiple editions of prints and sculptures alienated critics. Haskell examines the evolution of Indiana's themes within the context of the marketing of his work and offers insight into how we judge artistic reputations.

Oral history interview with Larry Aldrich, 1972 April 25-June 10

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 9 sound tape reels ; 5 in.

Transcript: 385 p.

Interview of Larry Aldrich conducted 1972 April 25-June 10, by Paul Cummings, for the Archives of American Art. Aldrich speaks of his acquisitions and his program for selling art at Christmas and praises William S. Lieberman as "the curator of collectors". He discusses funds given to museums by the Larry Aldrich Foundation; visits to artists' studios; exhibiting a portion of his collection for the first time at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, exhibitions at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art; Robert Indiana's "Love Series"; and modern movements including "Lyrical Abstraction" and "Cool Art." He recalls Stephen Antonakos, Richard Brown Baker, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Leo Castelli, Grace Hartigan, Budd Hopkins, Jasper Johns, John Myers, Dorothy Miller, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Robert Smithson, and others.

Link Love: 6/6/2014

Smithsonian Institution Archives

“Cleopatra” in Domain Cricket Ground, 1914, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018196). Museum of New Zealand.

Blog Categories: 

Oral history interview with Audrey Sabol, 1987 June 10

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 48 pages.

An interview of Audrey Sabol conducted 1987 June 10, by Marina Pacini, for the Archives of American Art.

Sabol speaks of her education; her assocation with the Arts Council of the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association; how the council was organized and how it operated. She discusses some of the individual artists involved with the exhibits, including Richard Serra. She continues by discussing her tenure on the board of the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania and Ti-Grace Atkinson, its first director; projects completed by the Beautiful Bag Co. such as Roy Lichtenstein dishes and a Robert Indiana love ring; and an unsuccessful attempt to do an exhibition on billboards for which a Roy Lichtenstein billboard was completed. She concludes by discussing her own collecting, and her observations on the Philadelphia art scene.


Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features a gold-toned ring with the capital letters L and O (on angle), stacked over the letters V and E, spelling out the word love. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.In celebration of World Pride, June Object of the Day posts highlight LGBTQ+ designers and design in the collection. This gilded metal ring bears the motif of one of pop art’s most recognizable artworks. Modeled after Robert Indiana’s LOVE graphics and sculptures, the ring represents an element of popular design that reveals the relationship between...

When Robert Kennedy Delivered the News of Martin Luther King's Assassination

Smithsonian Magazine

Martin Luther King Jr.—murdered.

The news of April 4, 1968, was like a body blow to Senator Robert Kennedy. He “seemed to shrink back,” said John J. Lindsay, a Newsweek reporter traveling with the Democratic presidential candidate. For Kennedy, King’s slaying served as an intersection between past and future. It kindled memories of one of the worst days of his life, November 22, 1963, when J. Edgar Hoover coldly told him that his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had been shot and killed in Dallas. Furthermore, it shook Kennedy’s belief in what lay ahead. He sometimes received death threats and lived in anticipation of gunshots.

Half a century ago, when his campaign plane reached Indianapolis on that night, Kennedy learned of King’s death. The civil rights leader had been gunned down in Memphis, where he led a sanitation workers’ strike. Kennedy had planned to appear in a black Indianapolis neighborhood, an area the city’s mayor considered too dangerous for a rally. City police refused to escort Kennedy. Nevertheless, he proceeded as a messenger of peace in a time soon to become hot with rage. Reaching the neighborhood, Kennedy realized the boisterous crowd was unaware of King’s death.

Climbing onto a flatbed truck and wearing his slain brother’s overcoat, Kennedy looked at the crowd. Through the cold, smoky air, he saw faces upturned optimistically and knew they soon would be frozen in horror.

At first, he struggled to gain his rhetorical feet. Then, one of the most eloquent extemporaneous speeches of the 20th century tumbled from his lips. During the heartfelt speech, Kennedy shared feelings about his brother’s assassination—something he had avoided expressing, even to his staff. The pain was too great.

Clutching scribbled notes made in his car, RFK began simply: “I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.” Gasps and shrieks met his words. “Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”

Kennedy knew King’s death would generate bitterness and calls for vengeance: “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” he said. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.”

After the initial shock, the audience listened silently except for two moments when they cheered RFK’s peace-loving message.

“It’s a very un-speech speech,” says Harry Rubenstein, a curator in the division of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “When you watch Kennedy giving the news of King’s assassination you see him carefully and hesitantly stringing his ideas together. Ultimately, what makes the speech so powerful is his ability to share the loss of his own brother to an assassin, as he pleas with his audience not to turn to violence and hate.” Rubenstein concludes.

“It’s the first time he talks publicly about his brother’s death and that he has suffered the angst and anguish of losing someone so important to him, and they were all suffering together . . . . everyone on the stage as well as in the crowd. And there was a real vulnerability in that,” adds curator Aaron Bryant from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“It was such a risky thing for him to do as well because he was confronting a crowd that was ready to retaliate for the death of Martin Luther King, but he was ready to confront any retaliation or anger that people might have felt over King’s death. That took a certain amount of courage and spiritual power and groundedness,” says Bryant.

Two month before his own assassination, RFK spoke about his brother's death when comforting African-American's in Indianapolis about the assassination of Dr. King. A hand-held fan memorializes the three. (NMAH)

When Kennedy reached his hotel, he called King’s widow Coretta Scott King in Atlanta. She said she needed a plane to carry her husband’s body from Memphis to Atlanta, and he immediately promised to provide her one.

As the night proceeded, a restive Kennedy visited several campaign staffers. When he talked to speechwriters Adam Walinsky and Jeff Greenfield, he made a rare reference to Lee Harvey Oswald, saying JFK’s assassin had unleashed a flood of violence. He reportedly told “Kennedy for California” organizer Joan Braden, “it could have been me.”

The next day, he prepared for an appearance in Cleveland, while his staff worried about his safety. When a possible gunman was reported atop a nearby building, an aide closed the blinds, but Kennedy ordered them opened. “If they’re going to shoot, they’ll shoot,” he said. Speaking in Cleveland, he asked, “What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.”

Meanwhile, African-American anger erupted in rioting across more than 100 American cities, with deaths totaling 39 and injuries 2,500. After the senator finished his campaign swing, he returned to Washington. From the air, he could see smoke hovering over city neighborhoods. Ignoring his staff’s pleas, he visited riot-ravaged streets. At home, he watched riot footage on TV alongside his 8-year-old daughter, Kerry, and told her that he understood African-American frustration, but the rioters were “bad.”

Both Kennedy and his pregnant wife Ethel attended King’s Atlanta funeral, where they saw the slain leader lay in an open casket. They met privately with his widow. Mrs. King and Ethel Kennedy hugged upon meeting—by the end of the year both would be widows. Perhaps they recognized their shared burden of sorrow, even with RFK still standing among them.

A section of a mural from Resurrection City, inscribed: "John the Catholic/ Martin the King/ Robert the Samaritan/ They bled so we may live and LOVE," is on view at the Smithsonian. (NMAAHC, gift of Vincent DeForest)

On May 7, Kennedy won the Indiana primary. Three weeks later, he lost Oregon to U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, and on June 4, he triumphed again in California and South Dakota. After RFK’s early-morning victory speech in Los Angeles, Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Jordanian who opposed Kennedy’s support for Israel, shot the senator in the head. He lay mortally wounded on an Ambassador Hotel pantry floor while TV cameras rolled. His face wore an expression of resignation. Robert Kennedy died a day later.

His funeral ceremonies began with a Mass in New York’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and his coffin was carried from New York to Washington on a slow-moving train. Mixed gatherings of citizens lined the railroad awaiting an opportunity to demonstrate their sense of loss and to own a piece of history. Members of the Kennedy family took turns standing on the back of the last car, which carried the coffin in full view of the public. When the train reached Washington, an automobile procession passed Resurrection City, an encampment of 3,000-5,000 protesters, on the way to Arlington National Cemetery.

Organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, the shantytown on the National Mall included poor Southerners who traveled from Mississippi in covered wagons. King had planned to lead the demonstration and hoped to build a coalition supporting the poor of all colors. His organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, developed an Economic and Social Bill of Rights and sought $30 billion in spending to end poverty. Loss of a charismatic leader like King created both emotional and organizational obstacles for the SCLC, says Bryant, who has organized a Smithsonian exhibition, entitled “City of Hope: Resurrection City and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.”

Though in mourning, the SCLC went ahead with the demonstration because they “wanted to honor what would be King’s final and most ambitious dream,” according to Bryant. King was changing his movement through the Poor People’s Campaign, making a transition from civil rights to human rights. Economic rights were taking center stage. Bryant says that King believed “we should all have access to the American dream.”

Before he died, Dr. Martin Luther King was organizing the Poor People's Campaign. Smithsonian curator Aaron Bryant says King was making a transition from civil rights to human rights. (NMAAHC, gift of Linda and Artis Cason)

As Kennedy’s funeral procession passed, “people were really moved, of course, because he was a very important part of how the campaign happened,” explains Bryant. Some raised their fists in a “black power” salute; others sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Among the remains of Resurrection City after its temporary permit expired June 20 was a piece of plywood with a simple message of loss and hope:

John the Catholic

Martin the King

Robert the Samaritan

They bled so we may live and LOVE.

This piece of wood was one of 12 panels in the Hunger Wall, a mural rescued from Resurrection City. Two panels are on display in the Poor People’s Campaign exhibition, which is currently on view at the National Museum of American History. The show also includes a clip of Kennedy’s speech. Four more of the mural panels are on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

After a two-month manhunt, James Earl Ray, a white man, was arrested in London for King’s slaying. He confessed and although he later recanted, he served a life sentence until his death in 1998. Sirhan, now 73, remains in a California prison.

The “City of Hope: Resurrection City & the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign,” organized by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is on view at the National Museum of American History.

The Poor People's Campaign, a shanty town of 3,000-5,000 protesters on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. was a tribute to King, to honor his "most ambitious dream," says Bryant. (NMAAHC, gift of Vincent DeForest)

New Met Logo Typifies the Eternal Struggle of Rebranding

Smithsonian Magazine

Logos are a tricky thing to get right. Designed to distill the values of a brand or institution down to a single image, they serve as a powerful marketing tool or a bullseye for critics. For venerable institutions like museums, it’s not uncommon for a change of brand to spark the latter, at least at first—just look at last week’s kerfuffle over the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new logo.

For 45 years, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was represented by the iconic "M" logo, where the design of interlocking circles and lines centered around the letter "M" evoked Leonardo da Vinci’s "Vitruvian Man." As of March 1, however the museum will adopt a brand new logo to represent itself: a stack of red capital letters tightly kerned, that spells out "THE MET."

When the news first broke last week, the reaction was quick and heated, to say the least. New York Magazine's architecture critic Justin Davidson fired off a piece calling the Met’s new logo “a typographic bus crash,” and graphic designers across the Internet took it upon themselves to make their own improvements to the logo, Sarah Cascone reports for artnet News. At the same time, others welcomed the new logo, with Gothamist’s Jen Carlson comparing the stacked design to pop artist Robert Indiana’s iconic “Love” sculpture. Wherever you stand on this debate, one thing is for certain: the Met isn’t the first museum to face this kind of symbolic controversy, and it likely won’t be the last.

Whether a logo symbolizes a museum or a company, new logos tend to bring controversy. When Pepsi unveiled a new logo in 2008, many saw it as a blatant ripoff of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign logo. In 2013, another New York museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, drew sharp criticism for its own logo change from a block-y, all-caps "WHITNEY" to a minimalistic, movable "W." Only a year later, the Philadelphia Museum of Art unveiled a redesigned logo that places heavy emphasis on the word “Art” but makes no reference to the stone stairs the museum is most iconic for, which Sylvester Stalone trained on in Rocky. But controversy fades over time, and all three logos are still around.

What makes the Met different from these, though, is the scale. The museum holds a juggernaut of art spanning time and continents, with its collections including 1.5 million individual artworks (including an ancient Egyptian temple) housed in 400 galleries. There are also satellite outposts: the Cloisters in upper Manhattan and a soon-to-be-opened museum on the Upper East Side in the building that housed the Whitney until it moved to Lower Manhattan’s Meatpacking District last year. The reason for the change in logo is that while the “Vitruvian M” may have been iconic, it was never used to unify the museum’s identity, Margaret Rhodes writes for Wired.

“The way we spoke to the public was very fractured,” Susan Sellers, the museum’s head of design, tells Rhodes. “There was no single way The Met represented itself. There were just a lot of legacy systems that were overlapping and oftentimes contradictory.”

So far, the Met has cast its new logo as a breath of fresh air, a rebranding that will revitalize and unify the museum’s various projects in the eyes of the public (and, of course, its promotional materials). Critics may grumble about it now, but it’s impossible to know how it will be received once it has been around for a few years. By then, chances are it will be absorbed into the background, a nearly invisible symbol people don’t even think twice about – the sign that a design has done its job.

Adopt Numbers!

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Here’s your chance to adopt Numbers (Stuttgart, 1968). The catalog is a collaboration between the poet Robert Creeley (1926-2005) and the influential American pop artist Robert Indiana (1928-), who is best known for his Love graphic and sculpture in Philadelphia. The book contains 10 screen-printed number designs by Indiana and 10 accompanying poems (one for each number) by Creeley, printed in both English more »

Dixieland joys [sound recording] / compiled and annotated by David A. Jasen

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Program notes ([2] p.) inserted in container.

Oral history interview with Vija Celmins, 2009 February 11-October 15

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 45 pages

An interview of Vija Celmins conducted 2009 February 11-October 15, by Julia Brown, for the Archives of American Art, at the Celmins' home and studio, in New York, New York.

Celmins speaks of her family's Latvian roots; experiencing World War II as a child; surviving and overcoming the trauma of World War II; the difficulties of being a refugee and moving to the United States; the influence of books on her imagination and art; expressing herself through drawing after moving to Indiana; learning English; studying art at the John Herron School of Art; attending summer school at Yale University; moving to California to obtain her MFA at UCLA; using art to grapple with and understand both her past and her emotions; experimenting with various mediums; discovering the pencil as an art material; the difficulties of printmaking; experimenting with abstraction and Pop art; deciding to drop painting and collage work; finding her own artistic philosophy and practices; her love of nature and its impact on her work; not conforming to the male-dominated, L.A. art scene; her decision to leave L.A. for NYC. Celmins also speaks about Tony Berlant, Chas Garabedian, Ed Ruscha, David Stuart, Philip Guston, Chuck Close, Willem de Kooning, Brice Marden, Joan Mitchell, Robert Irwin, and Jasper Johns.

Ask an Expert: What Did Abraham Lincoln’s Voice Sound Like?

Smithsonian Magazine

I suspect that when people imagine Abraham Lincoln and the way he sounded, many imagine him as a bass, or at least a deep baritone. Perhaps this is because of his large stature and the resounding nature of his words. Certainly, the tradition of oratory in the 1850s would support the assumption. “Usually people with centurion, basso profundo voices dominated American politics,” says Harold Holzer, a leading Lincoln scholar. Then, of course, there are the casting choices of film and TV directors over the years. “It can’t get any deeper than Gregory Peck,” says Holzer. Peck played Lincoln in the 1980s TV miniseries The Blue and the Gray.

But, unfortunately, no recordings of Lincoln’s voice exist, since he died 12 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the first device to record and play back sound. If anyone had an educated guess as to how it sounded though, it would be Holzer, who has written 40 books on Lincoln and the Civil War. The author has pored over reports of Lincoln’s public appearances on speaking tours, eyewitness accounts told to Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon and newspaper commentaries about the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and, surprisingly, he says, one of the only things that can be said with certainty is that Lincoln was a tenor.

“Lincoln’s voice, as far as period descriptions go, was a little shriller, a little higher,” says Holzer. It would be a mistake to say that his voice was squeaky though. “People said that his voice carried into crowds beautifully. Just because the tone was high doesn’t mean it wasn’t far-reaching,” he says.

When Holzer was researching his 2004 book Lincoln at Cooper Union, he noticed an interesting consistency in the accounts of those who attended Lincoln’s speaking tour in February and March 1860. “They all seem to say, for the first ten minutes I couldn’t believe the way he looked, the way he sounded, his accent. But after ten minutes, the flash of his eyes, the ease of his presentation overcame all doubts, and I was enraptured,” says Holzer. “I am paraphrasing, but there is ten minutes of saying, what the heck is that, and then all of a sudden it’s the ideas that supersede whatever flaws there are.” Lincoln’s voice needed a little time to warm up, and Holzer refers to this ten-minute mark as the “magical moment when the voice fell into gear.”

Image by The Everett Collection, Inc.. Gregory Peck played Abraham Lincoln in the 1980s TV miniseries The Blue and the Gray. (original image)

Image by The Everett Collection, Inc.. Actor Sam Waterston has played Lincoln on screen, in Ken Burns' The Civil War and Gore Vidal's Lincoln, pictured here. (original image)

Image by Granger Collection, NYC. No recordings of Lincoln's voice exist since he died 12 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the first device to record and play back sound. Shown here is Lincoln delivering his famous Gettysburg Address in 1863. (original image)

He recalls a critic saying something to this effect about Katharine Hepburn’s similarly startling voice: “When she begins to talk, you wonder why anyone would talk like that. But by the time the second act begins, you wonder why everyone doesn’t talk like that.” Says Holzer: “It’s that combination of gesture, mannerism and unusual timbre of voice that really original people have. It takes a little bit to get used to.”

Actor Sam Waterston has played Lincoln on screen, in Ken Burns’ The Civil War and Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, and on Broadway, in Abe Lincoln in Illinois. To prepare for the role in the 1980s, he went to the Library of Congress and listened to Works Progress Administration tapes of stories told by people from the regions where Lincoln lived. (Some of the older people on the tapes were born when Lincoln was alive.) Lincoln’s accent was a blend of Indiana and Kentucky. “It was hard to know whether it was more Hoosier or blue grass,” says Holzer. The way he spelled words, such as “inaugural” as “inaugerel,” gives some clue as to how he pronounced them.

Despite his twang, Lincoln was “no country bumpkin,” Holzer clarifies. “This was a man who committed to memory and recited Shakespearean soliloquies aloud. He knew how to move into King’s English. He could do Scottish accents because he loved Robert Burns. He was a voracious reader and a lover of poetry and cadence. When he writes something like the Second Inaugural, you see the use of alliteration and triplets. ‘Of the people, by the people and for the people’ is the most famous example,” he says. “This was a person who truly understood not only the art of writing but also the art of speaking. People should remember that, though we have no accurate memorial of his voice, this is a man who wrote to be heard. Only parenthetically did he write to be read.”

According to William Herndon, Lincoln didn’t saw wood or swat bees, meaning he did not gesture too much. Apparently, he didn’t roam the stage either. Herndon once wrote that you could put a silver dollar in between Lincoln’s feet at the start of a speech and it would be there, undisturbed, at the end. “He was very still,” says Holzer. “He let that voice that we question and his appearance and the words themselves provide the drama.”

Of the actors who have played Lincoln, “Waterston catches it for me,” says Holzer. “Although he is from Massachusetts, he gets that twang down, and he’s got a high voice that sometimes lapses into very high.”

It will be interesting to see what Daniel Day-Lewis, who is known to go to great lengths to get into character, does with the part. He is slated to play the president in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, a 2012 release based on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Watch this video in the original article

Woman/Verso: Untitled

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

10 Lucky Celebrities Who Escaped Disaster

Smithsonian Magazine

For almost every famous disaster you can name there’s an equally famous person who, though some lucky quirk of fate, happened to miss the ill-fated boat, doomed plane, mass murder, or other calamity. Here are 10 examples from recent American history.

1. Admiral Richard E. Byrd

In August 1921, Richard Byrd was scheduled to join the crew of a new, 695-foot-long Navy dirigible known as the ZR-2, departing from Howden, England, on a trial flight. But Byrd, later to gain fame as an aviator and the first explorer to fly over the South Pole, missed his train the day before and was late arriving at the airfield. As a result, he was crossed off the crew list.

Byrd did, however, have a chance to inspect the huge airship and watch it lift off the next morning. “How magnificent she looked, the rosy light of sunrise tinting her bright sides a series of soft violet and lavender tints,” he recalled in his 1928 memoir, Skyward. “Officers and observers aboard, lines cast off, she rose slowly and with dignity befitting so huge a craft, sailed away into the cloudless sky.”

A day later, back in London, he learned that the ZR-2 had broken in half, exploded in midair, and crashed into the Humber River near Hull. A total of 44 American and British crew members died.

Byrd would live on to have other adventures, including six pioneering expeditions to the Antarctic. He died in 1957 at age 68, at home in bed.

2. Kirk Douglas

In March of 1958, the actor known for his starring roles in movies such as Lust for Life (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957) planned to join film producer Mike Todd on a trip to New York in Todd’s private plane, but his wife objected. As Douglas recalled in his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, he and his wife were listening to the car radio when an announcer interrupted with the news that Todd’s plane had crashed in New Mexico, killing everyone on board.

Douglas is still alive, at age 96.

Another A-list movie star who narrowly missed being aboard Todd’s plane was Elizabeth Taylor, then the producer’s wife (see below).  There may have been others, as well. Two weeks after the crash, gossip columnist Earl Wilson noted that so many people were claiming to have avoided the flight that he’d heard someone joke, “Those are the same people who barely missed the Lusitania."

3. J. Paul Getty

Anointed the “World’s Richest Man” by People magazine, Getty supposedly booked passage on the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria in July 1956, but canceled at the last minute. On the final night of its nine-day voyage to New York from Genoa, the ship would collide with a Swedish liner and sink off Nantucket, killing 46 passengers and crew, just 10 hours from its destination. Because the accident occurred so close to land, camera crews were able to reach the scene by plane and helicopter before the Andrea Doria sank, making it the first ocean liner disaster to be televised. 

According to Robert Lenzner’s 1985 biography, The Great Getty, the Minnesota-born oilman, then living in England, had supposedly been warned by a fortune-teller that he would die if he ever attempted to cross the Atlantic again. Apparently that did the trick. Though he sometimes went so far as to make reservations, he always ended up canceling them, Lenzner wrote.

Getty died in 1976 at his mansion outside London at age 83. A longtime art collector, he left much of his vast estate, reportedly over $1 billion, to a trust that now operates the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California, two of the most visited art museums in the U.S.

4. Cary Grant

Grant and fellow actor George Murphy were scheduled to be aboard the Pan Am Clipper “Yankee” in February 1943 but lucked out when their itinerary changed at the last minute. The flying boat crashed during an attempted landing in Lisbon, killing 24 passengers and crew. Murphy, who later became a U.S. senator from California, recalled the incident in his 1970 autobiography, Say… Didn’t You Used to Be George Murphy? Among the 15 survivors was the popular singer Jane Froman, who was badly injured in the crash. The incident figures prominently in the 1952 Froman biopic, With a Song in My Heart, starring Susan Hayward.

That would not be Grant’s last connection to a famous disaster, incidentally. His then-wife, the actress Betsy Drake, was aboard the Andrea Doria on its final voyage in 1956. Drake escaped the stricken ship, but reportedly lost nearly $250,000 worth of jewelry Grant had given her. According to Richard Goldstein’s 2003 account of the sinking and rescue, Desperate Hours, it was locked in a ship’s safe, where it apparently remains to this day.

Grant died in 1986 at age 82.

5. George “Papa Bear” Halas

In July, 1915, George Halas was a 20-year-old college student with a summer job at Western Electric in Cicero, Illinois, just south of Chicago. The company’s annual picnic was scheduled for July 24 in Michigan City, Indiana, and employees were to be ferried there from downtown Chicago by one of several excursion steamers that plied Lake Michigan. Halas had bought a ticket on the Eastland.

As Halas told the story in his 1979 autobiography, Halas by Halas, he was late leaving to catch the ship, much to his good fortune. “When I came to the river where the Eastland was docked, an appalling sight awaited. The Eastland had turned on its side. Only a few passengers had escaped.” 

The final death toll was more than 800 men, women, and children. Because his name was on a passenger list obtained by a newspaper reporter, Halas was briefly assumed to be among them.

Halas lived on to become the founder and owner of the Chicago Bears, which he built from a company football team called the Decatur Staleys. He coached the Bears for 40 seasons and died in 1983 at age 88.

Image by Bettmann/CORBIS. On February 15, 1958, Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, producer Mike Todd, board his private plane named "The Liz," which crashed a month later killing Todd and two others. (original image)

Image by Wikipedia. Kirk Douglas narrowly escaped death when his wife objected to him riding on Mike Todd's plane. (original image)

Image by Wikipedia. A last minute itinerary change saved Cary Grant's life. (original image)

Image by Wikipedia. George Halas (right) with Pete Rozelle (left). (original image)

Image by Wikipedia. Musician Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on a plane, which later crashed. (original image)

Image by Wikipedia. Eleanor Roosevelt was just two years old when a ship carrying her on an Atlantic crossing almost sank. (original image)

Image by Wikipedia. The Flying Wallendas faced danger on a regular basis for generations, but never more so than on July 6, 1944. (original image)

6. Waylon Jennings

Jennings, who later gained fame as a country singer and songwriter and narrator of “The Dukes of Hazard” television show, was a little-known member of Buddy Holly’s backup band in 1959. When Holly decided to forsake their tour bus and charter a plane to fly to their next stop, Jennings gave up his seat to the singer J. P. Richardson, better known as the Big Bopper. The plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Holly, Richardson, and Ritchie Valens, as well as the pilot—a tragedy memorialized as “the day the music died” in the Don McLean song “American Pie.” 

Years later, Jennings described their last, jokey conversation after Holly learned he wouldn’t be joining them on the plane. “Well, I hope your damned bus freezes up again,” he remembered Holly saying.

Jennings’s reply: “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”

Waylon Jennings died in 2002 at age 64.

7. Steve McQueen

The actor was planning to drop by actress Sharon Tate’s rented home in Los Angeles on the night of August 8, 1969, but supposedly had a better offer from another female acquaintance and didn’t show. That proved to be a smart move. Tate, her unborn child, and four others were butchered shortly after midnight by members of the Manson Family cult.

McQueen later learned that he was on a list of celebrities that cult leader Charles Manson had marked for death, which he believed also included Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, and Elizabeth Taylor. From that point on, he packed a handgun.

McQueen died in 1980 at age 50 from cancer.

Among others who were reportedly invited that evening but didn’t appear: Denny Doherty and John Phillips, the two “papas” of the Mamas and the Papas.

8. Eleanor Roosevelt

The future First Lady was just two years old in 1887 when she and her parents started on an Atlantic crossing aboard the White Star liner Britannic. A day into the voyage, their ship was rammed by another liner, the Celtic, resulting in as many as a dozen deaths and several horrific injuries. After helping his wife and other members of their party into a lifeboat, Eleanor’s father held out his arms so that a crewman she was desperately clinging to could pass her along to safety. As Blanche Wiesen Cook wrote in her 1992 biography, “The crewman finally freed her fingers, and Eleanor always remembered that fall, the feel of plummeting from the deck high above into the pitching lifeboat below, surrounded by ‘cries of terror’ and shouts for help.”

The Roosevelts returned to New York aboard the Celtic, and when her parents attempted to resume their journey, young Eleanor refused to go with them and stayed behind with an aunt. She reportedly had a lifelong fear of both water and heights as a result of the experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962 at age 78. 

As to the Britannic, despite being badly damaged, it made its way back to New York and soon returned to service. The White Star Line later used the name on another ill-fated liner, part of a trio of huge, near-identical ships that included the Titanic. That Britannic was sunk by a German mine in 1916.

9. Elizabeth Taylor

Like Kirk Douglas (see above), Elizabeth Taylor might easily have been aboard her husband Mike Todd’s plane during its fatal 1958 flight. Fortunately for her, Taylor had a cold and was running a 102-degree fever and Todd insisted she stay home, Life magazine reported. The two had been married for a year—Todd was her third husband—at the time of his death, and he had named the doomed twin-engine plane in her honor, with “The Liz” painted prominently on its sides.

Elizabeth Taylor died in 2011 at age 79. She supposedly said that Todd was one of the three great loves of her life, the other two being Richard Burton and jewelry.

10. The Flying Wallendas

The celebrated aerialist family known as the Flying Wallendas has faced danger on a regular basis for generations, but never more so than on July 6, 1944. On that day they were playing under the big top in Hartford, Connecticut, as one of the starring acts of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.

The Wallendas were on their platforms high above the crowd when patriarch Karl, about to start across the high wire on a bicycle, spotted fire behind the bleachers below and signaled to the rest of the act, according to Stewart O’Nan’s 2000 account, The Circus Fire. The Wallendas scurried down to safety, but an estimated 168 others were not so lucky and died in the fire.

Also spared in the tragedy were Emmett Kelly, the most famous circus clown of his day, as well as the future actor and TV game show regular Charles Nelson Reilly, then a 13-year-old member of the audience. Though Reilly would appear on many stages throughout his career, he said he couldn’t bear to sit in an audience, the result of his traumatic experience in Hartford

1-24 of 27 Resources