In 1978, facing eviction from his long-time studio in lower Manhattan, Robert Indiana (born 1928) relocated to the island of Vinalhaven, located in Maine’s Penobscot Bay, where he had worked seasonally since 1969. Robert Indiana: Placeholder features select prints from two series related to the artist’s residence in Maine, a time of intense introspection and renewed creativity.
In the first series, Decade: Autoportraits, Vinalhaven Suite (1980), Indiana created a silkscreen for every year of his tumultuous 1970s, each titled after a location on or near Vinalhaven. Supplemented with other text referencing Indiana’s significant travels, artworks, and relationships of each year, these prints navigate the intersections of historical fact, autobiography, and personal memory.
On Vinalhaven, Indiana found kinship with the work of Marsden Hartley (1877–1943), the Maine-born artist who had previously spent time on the island. The biographical parallels between the two were immediately apparent to Indiana: both had ambivalent relationships to the New York art world, largely tied to their vacillating critical reception, and faced the challenges of being gay men. Robert Indiana: Placeholder also features two prints from Indiana’s Hartley Elegies series (1989–94) which respond to Hartley’s landmark German Officer paintings of 1914–15, made in response to the death of Karl von Freyburg, a young soldier with whom Hartley had fallen in love while in Berlin.
Indiana reimagines Hartley’s symbolic portraits, where feelings, both Hartley’s and those that Indiana projects through him, are coded in geometric shapes, letters, and numbers. In its refraction of this pivotal moment in Hartley’s early career and representation of the Maine landscape more broadly, Robert Indiana: Placeholder presents Indiana’s use of geography and history as a proxy for a range of his lived experiences and serves as a complement to the concurrent exhibition Marsden Hartley’s Maine.