Indiana’s ‘EAT’ art to brighten Rockland

Posted May 29, 2009, at 7:54 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, N.Y., were dazzled by Robert Indiana’s large lighted sculpture, “EAT” — and wrongly convinced that the flashing, 400-square-foot artwork must have been advertising a restaurant.

To avoid further confusion, fair officials turned off the lights just days after the piece was installed, and it hasn’t been publicly exhibited since.

Until now.

The Vinalhaven artist’s “EAT” sculpture will soar 20 feet above the Farnsworth Art Museum starting in mid-June, as part of the exhibition “Robert Indiana and the Star of Hope,” which runs through Oct. 25.

If visitors to the city are made hungry by the sculpture, that’s OK, said museum spokesman David Troup.

“Anything that can help the economy,” Troup joked Thursday.

The unmistakable “EAT” is just one of the ways the museum will spill out into the streets this summer. Giant banners with wild-looking gulls adorn the Wyeth Center to generate interest in Jamie Wyeth’s “Seven Deadly Sins” exhibit, and the front of the museum will sport a new white awning by Duvall Design in Rockland.

“We want to make sure people are welcome to come in and excited to come in,” Troup said.

Some of the additions have been controversial, said City Councilor Lizzie Dickerson. The Farnsworth had to get permission from the city for both the “EAT” sculpture and the gull banners.

“My inbox has definitely had plenty of letters in it this spring because of these doings, but I think that overall people are going to like it,” she said. “It’ll be dynamic and fun.”

Dickerson said she’s glad the museum is finding these new ways to interact with the city.

“What’s happening is that the Farnsworth is reaching out and engaging regular people in Rockland as well as our visitors,” she said. “What’s really neat about this is that we’re finding new ways to collaborate, so that the museum is going out on the streets.”

Troup said he hopes new elements such as the “EAT” sculpture will draw curious visitors into the museum.

If the flashing lights don’t do the trick, the artwork’s history might. Indiana was inspired to use the word “eat” because of his last visit with his mother. The artist had been serving in the Army Air Corps in 1949 and was called back home to Columbus, Ind., to be with his gravely ill mother.

When she woke up and saw her son, she asked if he had had anything to eat — and died a short time later.

“All of his pieces are like that,” Troup said, “incredibly personal and a deep part of his history.”

The sculpture has been updated — its nearly 400 incandescent bulbs have been replaced by more energy-efficient LED bulbs — and the company responsible for installing it has been tasked with making sure it can withstand 100 mph winds.

Its lights will flash from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily during the exhibition.

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