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IMA plans to restore damaged 'LOVE' sculpture, move it inside

December 8, 2016
LOVE sculpture - IMA - 550 px

The Indianapolis Museum of Art plans to remove its iconic "LOVE" sculpture from view on the museum grounds so it can restore the piece and then reinstall it inside its Great Hall.

The IMA is seeking donations to help pay for the rehabilitation of the sculpture, which was completed in 1970 and is particularly important because it was the first in a series of "LOVE" pieces created by artist Robert Indiana.

The bulk of the restoration will be paid for by the James LaCrosse family, longtime donors to the museum, who have made what a spokeswoman called a “large, significant gift.” The museum would not to reveal the amount of that gift or the total cost of the project. But the LaCrosse family also has offered a $10,000 matching donation to raise money for the restoration from the community.

The piece—made of Cor-Ten steel, a trade name for weathering steel—has been deteriorating. Water corroded some surfaces of the structure and leaked inside where it has caused internal corrosion. The sculpture now has holes and split seams that have affected its stability.

love robert indiana 354pxRobert Indiana speaks at the dedication of his LOVE sculpture on Oct. 22, 1975. (Registration Historical Files, 75.174 file, IMA Archives. © 2016 Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

IMA officials say they have been monitoring the condition of the sculpture for years and recently worked with experts to evaluate the piece. Outdoor sculpture conservation expert Abigail Mack and Alfred Lippincott, a representative of the company that originally fabricated the piece, assessed its condition as poor to fair.

The museum said the pair recommended that "LOVE" be removed from outdoor display, stabilized and repaired, and then displayed inside the museum. The move means people will now be required to pay museum entry fees to see the sculpture.

“Obviously we recognize it’s a shock to move a piece that’s been outside for 10 years to the indoors,” said Stephanie Perry, the museum’s assistant director of communications. “We hope people recognizes why that’s happening. It’s had a lot of damage and it’s critical it be moved inside.”

She said the museum created a webpage—www.imamuseum.org/LOVEconservation—to help explain the conservation process and a video to show the damage.

Throughout its history, the piece has been displayed both inside and outside the IMA, as well as loaned to the city of New York for display in Central Park and to an exhibition in Boston. It once sat at The Indiana National Bank of Indianapolis and has been featured in commercials for Eli Lilly and Co. and the L.S. Ayres department store.

"LOVE" has been located at its current spot in the Dudley and Mary Louise Sutphin Mall since 2006.

Moving it inside offers plenty of challenges. Most notably the piece is so heavy that it requires the floor where it’s located to be reinforced. “We think it’s about three tons but we’re going to weigh it,” Perry said.

Museum officials chose to put the sculpture in the Pulliam Family Grand Hall because it had been displayed there before its most recent move outside and the floor has already been reinforced.

“As stewards of this important sculpture, which is significant to both our community and the art world, we are committed to preserving "LOVE" so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come,” said Charles Venable, the museum’s director and CEO, in a written statement.

Robert Indiana is known for his large, pop-art works, including "Numbers," currently on display in the IMA’s sculpture court. Like many of his subsequent LOVE sculptures, "Numbers" was made of painted aluminum that provides a layer of protection from weather, museum officials said.

(Top photo: Robert Indiana, LOVE, © 2016 Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

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