Seven Things Surrounding Portland’s “Seven” Sculpture: Indiana’s Impact on Maine

By Frank Coletti
Communications and New Media Major
20150123_2013567. SYMBOLIC ART
It was seven years ago today when I saw my first Robert Indiana piece. Seven of my friends were watching 7th Heaven when we decided to go to the closest Seven Eleven. We drove my dad’s 70’s mustang with a seven fifty seven and a vanity plate that read “LKYNMB7.” We passed the Farnsworth museum that housed Robert Indiana’s timeless LOVE sculpture on their front lawn.
A goofy introduction but a statement on human’s relationship to symbols. Just as LOVE graces the corner of 6th Ave., Indiana’s #7 will achieve the same standard. However, the permanent installation has been under some local scrutiny. On Dec. 14th it was vandalized and last week it received a poor review from Portland Press Herald’s Martin Steingesser. I checked it out myself and found seven cool things about Indiana’s #7 statue.
“Please give us public art that occasionally reminds us of a deeper sense of what it means to be human in this unfathomable, incredible world,” Steingesser said in his #7 critique.
The LOVE sculpture guides people to see the incredible world. When I was in NYC with my friend, his sister and her husband wanted to take wedding photos in front of LOVE. They didn’t think they’d end up sharing an artistic bond through mutually recognized symbols with hundreds of other lovers. Acts like this through Art can resonate with the people and hopefully will be recreated in Portland.
Last month Grime Studios had a charity Rock-a-thon for a new location. The event stressed the importance that their 24 hour recording studio had on the Portland’s Art Scene. Artists need both a studio to experiment and a library to study. I donated five dollars to keep the former while 400,000 dollars was raised to keep the latter. Portland needs Indiana’s #7 to concrete their city as an arts hub. Mark Bessire, the director of the PMA, said,  “in hopes of helping to transform Congress Square…(#7 will be the) figurehead for a city that sees itself as a place for bold art.”
Indiana is Pop Art which, in its global context, acts as an oculus for money to coagulate with the museum. So when 400,000 dollars is dropped on this art form there is a long term investment involved. Warhol’s work is rationalized by the Renaissance’s grandeur while both still praising relative deities; one is God, the other is money.
If you’re like me and read the flyers at the urinal then you might be familiar with SMCC’s Business Club informational tidbits. If you don’t use a urinal they have flyers elsewhere. In one of their recent flyers that stuck with me there was a Warhol quote: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Hopefully the relativity between Renaissance and Pop will bless similar monetary dividends.

Indiana’s embrace of words derives from roadside entertainment signs and highway street signs. The mostly primary colors from post war America compliment the organization; the signs that inspired the balance were asymmetrical or radial. Sometimes the materials were old street signs morphed into his own terms of the American identity radioed through symbols of raw, identifiable emotions. Indiana’s presence in our community will hopefully sharpen Portland’s artistic event horizon.
Robert Indiana was born in New Castle, Indiana on September 13, 1928. In 1942, Indiana started high school in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Arsenal Technical High School, an institution known for its strong art department. He graduated in 1946 as the valedictorian. He was also a photographer, photo editor of the class yearbook, captain of the honor society, and a staff member of the school newspaper. Robert received a Scholastic Art and Writing Award for the John Herron Art Institute when graduating, but instead choose to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps at Camp Atterbury, Edinburgh, Indiana. Robert Indiana’s style fit in nicely in the New York art scene and in the fall of 1956, Cy Twombly used Indiana’s loft during the day to prepare for a show at the Stable Gallery. Shortly after, he created his first single word painting, FUN, subsequently launching him into fame in the New York Pop Art scene.  The study of words lead to his opus, the LOVE series. In 1978, he moved permanently to Vinalhaven, Maine.
Street Art is the most digestible of the contemporary practices which creates a common denominator between it and Pop. Both have the bond between the formal practices of the art form and the mainstream viewership. Similarities between the art forms and their synchronicity aside acts of vandalism are always going to happen. So why the poor review?
Steingesser was Portland’s first Poet Laureate and has a piece of art hanging in the PMA, but his recent PMS makes me think he vandalized  #7. After all, when addressing the Dec. vandalism, Indiana said, “It was probably some local artist who decided, ‘Why am I not in front of the museum instead of that guy?’ I am not surprised. This has happened many times before. I am a target.”


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