October 3, 2013 Repository 96: Word for Word | Text Artists Tee Off in Dueling Museum Retrospectives Posted In: contemporary art, exhibition of note

Robert Indiana, "Love"

Robert Indiana, “Love”

This month launches the retrospective of two artists, both enamored with words. Robert Indiana’s “Love” paintings launched a thousand “Love” products in the late 60’s, while Christopher Wool’s au courant fuck you paintings invoke the hater in all of us. The former has his very first retrospective at the Whitney through January, and the latter is at the Guggenheim also through January.

Robert Indiana is of Pop Art fame – he launched his career in the thick of the Lichtenstein/Warhol Pop froth of the 60s. Unfortunately he lost out after aggressive merchandising of his “Love” painting, which was originally a commission for a Museum of Modern Art Christmas card. After a highly unsuccessful show in the late 70s, he left New York in 1978 to recover from the “Love” hangover in Vinalhaven, Maine. He’s been living there ever since.

At age 85 the show at the Whitney this month is a testament to an actual artist, not simply a machine of Pop art. The Whitney show includes some sculptures reminiscent of the combines of his contemporaries Robert Rauschenburg and Jasper Johns, but without the expressive paint placement. One in particular reminds me of a work made years later by Felix Gonzalez-Torrez. Gonzalez-Torrez’s “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) piece accidentally echos Indiana’s 1962 piece, though Indiana’s is titled “Mate” and it’s clock components suggest anything but a perfect pair.

Christopher Wool’s work is of Neo-Pop fame. The work at the Guggenheim will feature the popular paintings with words like “Terrorist”, “Fuckem if they can’t take a joke”, “If you don’t like it then you can get the fuck out of my house” and other high-flying assaults. Is he assaulting you the viewer or himself? All art is autobiographical right? Included in the mix at the museum are collaborations with Richard Prince – of naughty nurse and dirty joke fame (who if you follow his tweets reveal how sick and perfectly twisted he aims his persona to be). It all feels very smart, but mostly mean. Wool is wildly successful, as his work is so recognizable and text is a low hanging fruit for accessibility even if it says “go fuck yourself”. I get it. We get it.

Christopher Wool, "Hole in Your Head", courtesy the artist and the web

Christopher Wool, “Hole in Your Head”, courtesy the artist and the web

It’s important to note that Indiana was the first to include these billboard sign painted words in his paintings, unheard of prior to his doing. The practice of blending words, graffiti and advertising like gloss to paintings is old hat now as Wool’s work attests. Unlike Indiana, Wool at age 58 has had many major museum exhibitions: the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1998), an exhibition which then traveled to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, the Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst am Museum Ludwig in Köln, Germany (2009) and in the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2012). Editions of Indiana’s “Love” sculpture are in seven major US cities.

While Indiana’s work with words catapulted him to a sleepy island off the coast of Maine, Wool’s trajectory has been quite different. Now both word Pop artists are back in the big apple – the lover and the hater all within blocks of each other. And I can’t think of a better place for these two exhibits to happen. The only better place for Pop art extravaganzas besides New York would be LA of course – both hot spots are popular, sexy, glamorous, witty, expendable and big business. OH and Pop art is mass produced so make sure you check out the museum shops at both these exhibits!!

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