Robert Indiana's corroded Core-Ten steel LOVE sculpture -- universal sentiment writ monumental -- may be the most photographed artwork in the state.
Its new neighbor, Roy Lichtenstein's Five Brushstrokes, which sprawls across The Dudley and Mary Louise Sutphin Mall at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, is not as obvious a backdrop for engagement and wedding photos. It has not adorned postage stamps or paperweights. But museum officials hope it will be just as beloved and an icon in its own right.
"It's an iconic piece," says Scott Stulen, the museum's curator of audience experience and performance. "With its scale, it's going to become a destination piece. It provides a certain spectacle on the front lawn, where it looks really great. Like the LOVE sculpture, people will want to get their pictures taken in front of it. LOVE gets the lovers and that's kind of different, but it should be equally beloved."
An Eight-Ton Installation
Five Brushstrokes is a pop art master's riff on the abstract expressionism that came before him, and it's enormous, rising up to 40-feet tall and weighing in at more than eight tons. One local art critic said it "kinda looks like bacon," and it resembles a comic book spoof of Jackson Pollock slashing away at a canvas, only in towering 3D.
After a Herculean installation that required more than a year of planning, the five-piece sculpture will be unveiled to the public at a special IMA "block party" starting at 3 p.m. Aug. 29. Members of the Lichtenstein Foundation and the artist's widow will take part in the all-day celebration.
"We're going to take down the fences so people can finally see it up close," Stulen says.
Sun King, King David Dogs and food trucks will be on hand. Soccer goals will be set out on the lawn. Attendees will be able to play croquet and bocce ball, and take part in art-making activities, including a collaborative Five Brushstrokes-themed painting on a giant 25-foot canvass. A photo booth will be set up so visitors can get their picture taken in front of the piece, a never-before-assembled collection of five swooshing, brightly colored elements, including a tower of four interconnected brushstrokes that ascends 40 feet into the air.
Visitors are encouraged to walk through the sculpture as they stroll through the mall grounds, or just sit and take it in.
"This piece is an eloquent bridge between the IMA's great accomplishments with contemporary art in the past and the continued vitality of that program going forward," IMA Director and Chief Executive Officer Charles Venable says. "We are going to amplify our efforts to enhance our visitors' experience in our gardens going forward, and adding a few major examples of sculpture is part of that vision. Like LOVE I believe Five Brushstrokes will become a beloved object at the IMA and a cultural icon for Indianapolis."
Venable started pursuing the acquisition after he took the helm in Oct. 2012. He wanted a bold piece that would make a statement on the well-promenaded grounds.
"Five Brushstrokes is the first major Lichtenstein piece that we've acquired," he says. "As one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, it is important that the IMA have a key example of his work. Furthermore, Five Brushstrokes is a very important example of Lichtenstein's work. It is the most ambitious piece in his highly regarded Scatter Series and the most monumental. Given the scale of the IMA's building and grounds, I feel it is important to continue to acquire art that is bold and highly compelling visually, especially for placement outside where a large portion of our visitors spend time."
Other sculptures in the series are displayed outside museums in cities that include Boston, Portland, Madrid and Tokyo, according to the Lichtenstein Foundation. But none rival the scope of this one, which looms twice as tall as the Lichtenstein sculpture outside the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
The sculpture, hauled to Indianapolis in two flatbed trucks while encased in custom cradles that allowed cranes to lift the artwork without actually touching it, had been sitting in a Rhode Island warehouse since it was fabricated in 2012, based on a design the late Lichtenstein did in 1983 while on commission from the Stuart Collection of University of California, San Diego. Efforts to acquire it predated Stulen, who joined the IMA in a newly created position in March. But he said the whimsical, immersive sculpture perfectly complements his efforts to engage audiences, such as with events, performances and films.
"Lichtenstein was known for comic books and comic book culture," Stulen says. "He was a pop art master, and this piece is playful, only on such a huge scale. There's a certain sense of whimsy."
Putting the Piece in Place
Museum officials looked at various sites for the piece, including at 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park. They settled on prime real estate not far from the museum entrance.
"We hope this sculpture will become an icon in the city of Indianapolis and wanted it to be front and center for our visitors," says Kathryn Haigh, deputy director for collections, exhibitions and facilities management at the IMA.
Setting it up took more than a year of careful planning and 10 weeks of work that was coordinated to not disturb visitors. Lichenstein died in 1997, before it was ever installed anywhere, so the museum could not work with the artist's studio, but Venable researched how it should be configured and found images of maquettes the artist had arranged on his lawn so the IMA could honor his original intent.
The arrangement of the elements on the lawn was plotted out in the design program SketchUp, and a significant amount of engineering was required because the sculpture stands atop the museum's underground parking garage. Engineers studied the field conditions, wind load and weight of the heavy equipment needed for installation.
"We needed to make sure the placement of the different components of the sculpture did not compromise the integrity of the roof over the parking garage and garage tunnel," Haigh explains."The concrete footers required to support and disperse the weight of the sculptures are massive."
The placement of one element was slightly adjusted so it was directly over a column for maximum structural support, she says.
Concrete had to be poured, to bear the 16,500-pound load of the sculpture. Irrigation lines had to be moved. Electrical lines needed to be extended to light the sculpture at night.
The installation itself took three days and involved the fabricator, several pieces of heavy machinery and a team of eight museum staffers, including a senior conservator who ensured the artwork's safety.
Cranes and man lifts fitted and placed the elements, the most complex of which to install was the tallest, since it consists of four different components stacked atop each other.
"Each individual piece was like its own little puzzle," Stulen says. "It was fun for me personally to be part of the process, because I got to go from seeing mock-ups to the real thing. It was like unwrapping a present."