PORTLAND, Maine — Famed pop artist Robert Indiana’s sculpture “Seven” was vandalized on March 24. Someone scrawled an illegible word in black spray paint across the side of the 8-foot, 3,000-pound metal artwork.
It’s not the first time.
In January 2015, a band of vandals defaced the rust-colored number 7, which sits in front of the Portland Museum of Art in Congress Square. At the time, the museum captured surveillance camera footage of a group of men kicking the sculpture and a woman writing what turned out to be a swear word on it.
The museum purchased the art in 2014 for around $400,000. Besides serving as public art, it also announces the museum’s address: 7 Congress Square. According to the website artnet.com, Indiana once tried to give the sculpture to the Prince of Monaco, who declined.
The last time someone tagged “Seven” Indiana told the Portland Press Herald it was probably out of jealousy.
“It was probably some local artist who decided, ‘Why am I not in front of the museum instead of that guy?’ ” he told the paper. “I am not surprised. This has happened many times before. I am a target.”
Indiana is best known for his “Eat” and “Love” sculptures, the latter of which ended up on a United States postage stamp. He died at his home on Vinalhaven in 2018. Since then, his considerable estate has been tied up in legal knots with multiple claims and counterclaims filed in court.
On Wednesday morning, Georgetown art conservator Nina Roth-Wells was on a ladder, trying to carefully remove the paint with a cotton ball on a wooden stick.
“Cleaning graffiti off of artwork is challenging,” Roth-Wells, who restored the work in 2015 as well, said.
“Seven” may look like just a big piece of rusty metal but removing the paint without damaging the patina is delicate work. Simply scrubbing the scribble away would disrupt the naturally-progressing corrosion and leave unwanted marks.
“It’s always changing,” Roth-Wells said. “It’s actually more like velvet than metal.”
A request to the museum for comment was not immediately returned.