PORTLAND, Maine — On Friday, the Portland Museum of Art will unveil its newest acquisition, “Seven,” by Vinalhaven artist Robert Indiana.
Anchoring the museum’s main entrance at the intersection of High, Free and Congress streets, the 8-foot tall sculpture made of Corten steel sends a message. It not only signals the museum’s street address, 7 Congress Square, but it declares that art is spoken there.
“This is a way for us to make a mark and say this is a place for art,” said chief curator Jessica May, surveying the curvy sculpture that is a permanent part of the city’s Congress Square neighborhood. “This is hallowed ground.”
The piece, which weighs 3,000 pounds, is set in concrete where the museum’s kiosk previously stood and will be illuminated at night.
Adding the work by the iconic Maine artist, known for his EAT and LOVE signs, seeks to help revitalize the neighborhood that has experienced its share of growing pains.
“There is a desire for Congress Square to be more of a vibrant part of the community. This enlivens our building. Creates an opportunity for art in public,” said May. “It’s a gift.”
The museum, with the help of multiple donors, raised $450,000 towards the purchase of the sculpture, which spawned from Indiana’s original “Numbers” series. It had been in storage for a long time and last exhibited at the National Young Arts Foundation in Miami.
The Contemporaries, a group of young art philanthropists from ages 20 to 45, played a key role in the acquisition and installation of the piece, launching an Indiegogo campaign and raising a total of $25,000 to add the sculpture into the museum’s collection.
“This is philanthropy for a new generation,” said MaryBeth Lorenz, a 40-year-old from South Freeport who is on the steering committee. Now that the sculpture is part of the urban landscape, “we will be able to walk past this beautiful piece of contemporary art and say ‘we made it happen,’” Lorenz said.
There are few artists from Maine who have an international reputation on par with Indiana, said May, naming Alex Katz and Winslow Homer as other examples. The museum has close to a dozen pieces from Indiana in its holdings, but “Seven” will be on view without a ticket.
“The purchase completes our representational survey of his career,” said May. “It tells the whole story.”
Indiana, who ran with a fast pop art crowd that included Andy Warhol in the 1960s, is more than a graphic artist. His work demonstrates that “words and signs have function and meaning. They have a dual capacity — image and symbols and graphic beauty,” said May.
The arresting piece is the opening salvo of the museum’s plan to reinstall its more than 18,000 objects of art in 2016.
“This is an explicit attempt to turn the collection inside out,” said May. “This signals the rise of the institution for the public to enjoy. This is a place for art. All are welcome.”
As part of Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, “Seven” will be unveiled 5:15 p.m. Friday with remarks from May and museum director Mark Bessire. Bowdoin College’s a cappella group, the Meddiebempsters, will sing and a 7-Up toast will be made.