Those who have been lucky enough to visit the Star of Hope know the world that artist Robert Indiana has created inside his home in the former Odd Fellows Hall on the island of Vinalhaven.
The rest of us who haven’t been inside the former lodge building are, however, lucky enough to have “Robert Indiana and the Star of Hope,” a major exhibition of Indiana’s work which opened Saturday at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland.
The artist himself gave the exhibition, which closes Oct. 25, his wholehearted approval.
“The most beautiful show I’ve ever had is taking place in Rockland, Maine, which is rather unusual,” the 80-year-old Indiana pronounced in a brief interview during a Friday night members-only opening. “Other museums have had my shows but not as beautiful as this. Portland gave me a show, Nice [France], but this is the most beautiful. It’s just the way it’s hung and lit. Lighting is so important.”
The works in the exhibition, which sprawls through the museum’s Morehouse Wing and Crosman Gallery, were culled from the art Indiana keeps at the Star of Hope, and works he has created since moving to Maine in 1978.
Those guidelines are hardly limiting. “Robert Indiana and the Star of Hope” is really a career retrospective, spanning from a 1934 childhood crayon-and-pencil drawing to images from Indiana’s years in New York City to last year’s sculpture “HOPE,” which was used as a fundraiser for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Also evident is Indiana’s transformation — after he met painter and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly — from figurative artist to his association with the Pop Art movement.
“[The goal] was to show the breadth of his work as an artist but with a focus on what he’s done since coming to Maine,” said Farnsworth chief curator and interim director Michael Komanecky, whose work on the exhibition built on what former Farnsworth director Lora Urbanelli started before she left the museum last winter. Komanecky was assisted by guest curator and art historian John Wilmerding and by Indiana himself.
“I wanted to give people a sense of who Bob Indiana is,” Komanecky added. “Something an artist friend of mine said to me a long time ago, and it’s really stuck with me, is when you see an artist’s retrospective you’re really seeing their personality, finding out who they are. You’re seeing their art, but you’re seeing so much more.”
There is, of course, plenty of “LOVE” in the Indiana exhibition. There are several incarnations of Indiana’s iconic image, which is his most well-known creation to date, including the French AMOR and Hebrew letters that spell “Ahava,” which translates to love, along with poems, prints and sculptures in stainless steel, and Carrara marble. There is also a “LOVE” sculpture at the corner of Main and Park streets, just a few blocks away from the museum.
The current exhibit at the Farnsworth, however, emphasizes the artist Indiana has become since “LOVE” rocketed him to previously unknown heights.
“[Indiana] was pigeonholed by the fame of that piece,” Komanecky said. “It deserves all the attention that it’s gotten, but he’s an artist with obviously profound imagination and enormous talents and creativity. He’s given all of that to so many works he’s created.”
The range of works include 10 serigraphs from Indiana’s Marsden Hartley Elegies which are on loan from Bates College in Lewiston, the hometown of artist Hartley. Indiana created the series in the early 1990s as an homage to Hartley, with whom Indiana felt a kinship.
There are some early works, including pencil sketches Indiana created when he lived on Coenties Slip in New York City, two electric “EAT” signs, one of which now sits atop the Farnsworth itself, and works such as “Afghanistan,” an oil painting created in reaction to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and two 2002 tributes to Maine, “The Islands” and “The First State to Hail the Sun.”
The most recent works are a print and sculpture of “HOPE,” Indiana’s riff on his own “LOVE” design with the familiar tilted “O.”
Director Dale Schierholt’s 57-minute film “A Visit to the Star of Hope: Conversations with Robert Indiana,” which had its world premier Friday night at the Strand Theatre in Rockland, is screening several times daily in the museum’s auditorium.
In it, Indiana offers an inside look at some of his artistic motivations and specific works which turn up in the Farnsworth exhibition. Are you interested in finding out why Indiana chose red, green and blue for his original “LOVE”? Curious to know the meaning Indiana has attached to the water stain in his “Descent of a Love Goddess?” Why he decided to start including words in his work? Indiana talks, and the tight shots of the artist do the job of making us feel as if we’re sitting just feet away, listening to his stories.
The film also gives viewers a glimpse into the Star of Hope, with its animals both alive and stuffed, and artwork covering the walls. But now that some of those works will spend the next few months inside a museum instead of Indiana’s home, one wonders if the artist will miss those paintings and sculptures.
Apparently, the Star of Hope is stuffed with enough artwork to sustain him until the Farnsworth show comes down this fall.
“I have filled up all the empty spaces with other works,” Indiana said Friday. “I have quite a supply.”
For more information, go to www.farnsworthmuseum.org.