One of the greatest sculptures in the history of art is the bronze “Charioteer of Delphi”. The life-sized figure is a masterpiece of balance between realism and formality, true to the tradition of Classical Greece but singular in its perfect achievement of cherished artistic ideals. The sculpture, which was erected in Delphi in 474 BC, was unearthed along with sections of the chariot horses in 1896. The base contained an inscription that credited the financial patron for this sculptural commission (a political figure) but the artist is not named, and even the city where the sculpture was conceived and fabricated is not conclusively known to scholars. Fortunately, the available documentation surrounding great works of art increased slowly through the ages. Prepatory drawings, sketch notations, diaries, letters, bills of sale, estate records and contemporary critiques are at times obtainable for study. But sadly, even a relatively thorough paper trail could be decimated through migrations, natural disasters and violent conflicts, and we are often left with fragments that must be bridged with speculation.
It is incumbent upon the art historian and the conservator to discover as much information as possible about an artwork in order to create both a cultural and technical context for the diverse works in museum collections. They utilize this augmented perspective in the service of insightful presentation in the galleries and informed preservation in the conservation labs. It is the mission of museums to provide not just a safe haven for art but to build an experience around a painting, a drawing, or a sculpture that will be infused with a greater knowledge – a sense of time and place, an understanding of the artist’s personality and inspiration, and the challenges and triumphs in the creative process itself. In this way we hope to turn the act of “looking” into an act of “appreciating” which carries the visitor into a genuine sense of empathetic connectedness to an art object.
Which brings us to the LOVE sculpture of Robert Indiana. It could be confidently stated that this particular artwork enjoys international recognition within the IMA’s holdings, and its monumental form is much beloved by museum patrons. It was a pivotal work for Robert Indiana, serving as a commanding foray into the rapidly evolving artistic climate of non-traditional aesthetics in the 1950s through 1970s. This was also a time of awakening for artists who desired to work in large scale formats, which helped in turn to fuel a new zeal for public art commissions. The fabrication of the 12 foot tall, three ton sculpture at the Lippincott foundry in North Haven, Connecticut, was completed in 1970. It proceeded to Indianapolis in October of that year, and in 1975 LOVE was formally accessioned by the IMA and permanently settled on the grounds of our campus.
Fortunately for scholars of Robert Indiana and his iconic accomplishment, a sizeable group of gelatin-silver photographs by Tom Rummler had slipped quietly into the IMA collection in 1970, a gift from Robert Indiana himself. This body of work documented the construction process of the LOVE sculpture from the foundry floor and beyond, which is an invaluable record that informs the vital questions of who, how, when, and where in art historical inquiry. For the conservator, these images of process are a solidly reliable source of information regarding the assemblage of this imposing Cor-ten steel structure. I became aware of these photographs during the IMA’s conservation condition survey for all collection photographs that has been undertaken by contracted photograph conservator Paul Messier. This survey was generously funded through a grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) in 2012, and we are profoundly grateful for this preservation project that has brought our photographs to the focused attention of the staff. The Rummler images document the creation of the LOVE sculpture at Lippincott Inc., and this massive undertaking is chronicled in views that celebrate the complexity, verve, and joy of the process. These photographs are beautiful in their own right as skillful compositions of light and texture; they visually convey the thrill of elemental industrial power harnessed to creative forces. A young Robert Indiana strikes poses worthy of a brave new world in art, and the faces of the fabrication crew are also preserved, a rare treat in art history up until the age of video. Paul confirmed that the 30 gelatin-silver Rummler photographs are currently in excellent condition. They are stored among works of photographic art, not in the library or the Registration office, which is a testament to the museum’s determination that they are at the same time art and document, a treasure of multiple virtues that deserves the highest level of care.
The Rummler photographs are offered here in light of the IMA’s designation of 2014 as a year in celebration of Robert Indiana – his art, his contribution to art history, and his ongoing relationship with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Visitors can view Robert Indiana’s graphic work and the Rummler photographs as part of The Essential Robert Indiana.
If only photographers had been on hand in Delphi in 474 BC …