What’s the Price of Love? Ask the Auctioneers of the Robert Indiana Love Sculptures

Robert Indiana, Love red/blue (1990).
Courtesy Christie's New York.

Robert Indiana has never cultivated a cult of personality the way Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein once did. Yet the artist has won a cult following among the auction set. To judge from recent data, the auction world is still in love with Indianaspecifically with his Love sculptures. In fact, some of the highest prices ever paid at auction for Indiana’s works have been for these solid pieces of Love .

Market observers have noticed a substantial increase in sales of the Love sculptures since 2002. Data provided by artnet Analytics show that in 2011, the iconic painted pieces Robert Indiana fabricated in the 1990s represented 72% of the artist’s sales volume, and in 2012 the sculptures accounted for 64% of the volume—both figures more than twice that of the total sales volume in 2002, which stood at but 25%.

The highest price ever achieved for the artist at auction was US$4,114,500; that was in 2011 and for the largest sculpture in an edition of three. The second-highest price paid for a Love sculpture was for the third, larger sculpture in the same series, which was purchased for US$3,513,000 in 2007.

The Love sculptures reproduce the iconic Love image of blocky stacked letters Indiana created in 1964 for the print image used for the Museum of Modern Art Christmas card. The Love image was embraced by anti-war activists and the love-in crowd and later branded on everything from t-shirts to key chains. The United States Postal Service even honored Indiana with a Christmas Love stamp in 1973.

But the popularity of the Love image saddled it with the sad fate of becoming a tiresome cliché that eclipsed everything else Indiana created.  Accused of being a sell-out, the artist took himself out of the New York art world and moved to the island of Vinalhaven in Maine, in 1978, where he has lived and worked in relative isolation ever since.

This past September the Whitney Museum held Indiana’s first United States retrospective. “Beyond Love” presented a range of the 85-year-old artist’s paintings and sculptures. Love-ly.

—Deborah Ripley


Robert Indiana LOVE sculptures sales chart.

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