By Laine Partington, Summer 2023 Intern
Where did Robert Indiana find love? He found it at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Robert Indiana and the word "love" are synonymous in the art world. What is less known is the story of the "Old Hundred," The Aldrich's original exhibition space, and the place where Indiana would first find LOVE.
Larry Aldrich, founder of The Aldrich, was a successful fashion designer in New York City who became an avid art collector. His early art collection centered on Impressionist and Expressionist painters, including works by Renoir, Manet, and Monet, but in 1963 he sold this initial collection to focus primarily on contemporary art and fund the establishment of a new museum. In 1964, Larry opened the Museum with his newly acquired collection of contemporary art in Ridgefield, Connecticut, housed in the eighteenth-century “Old Hundred” building, chosen for its high ceilings and location on Main Street, as well as its history as a Ridgefield cultural landmark. “Old Hundred” was the town’s first post office, a grocery and hardware store for one hundred years from 1783 to 1883, and when Larry bought the property, it had served as Ridgefield’s First Church of Christian Scientists.
The rich history of the “Old Hundred” was a direct inspiration for Robert Indiana.
Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark in New Castle, IN in 1928. He was adopted as an infant and spent his childhood frequently moving around the state, where he was often exposed to and involved in the Christian Science Church as a child. His artistic talent was evident at an early age and was quickly recognized by his first-grade teacher, who encouraged his path to becoming an artist. After graduating from Arsenal Technical High School, known for its strong arts curriculum, he joined the U.S. Air Force for three years. Indian then switched courses, and pursued an art education at various institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting, and the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland.
After his time in art schools, he moved to New York City where he met Larry Aldrich in 1964 at none other than The Factory, Andy Warhol’s 47th Street studio.
At The Factory, Indiana approached Larry, he had heard of The Aldrich's opening and wanted Larry to commission a work of his. Before the Museum was even open, Indiana knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. He had a plan to create a unique piece for Larry based on the “Old Hundred’s” history as a Christian Science Church, and also as a testament to his experiences as a youth. The typical style of Christian Science churches is prim and pure, with little to no decorative elements. The only consistent decoration in the churches is a gold inscription over the platform where the readers perform the service. This inscription reads, “God Is Love.” Indiana had a different idea in mind and reversed the wording to read, “Love Is God.” The symbolism of love comes from a spiritual rather than a romantic perspective as the artist considers his background with the Christian Science Church. Love Is God (1964) is a 68 by 68 inch diamond shaped grisaille canvas with a gray circle in the center outlined in white. The work's title, Love Is God, is painted in white letters within the circle. Bands of different shades of gray, going from light to dark, emanate from the circle pulling the focus to the center.
Indiana's Love Is God piece bears no resemblance to his iconic LOVE sculptures that the artist is best known for. However, it rooted the concept of love into Robert’s brain. It is the second piece of Robert’s that included the word love. The first being 4-Star Love
from 1961, a monochrome red piece that has two stars stacked on top of two more stars with “LOVE” spelled out at the bottom.
Although 4-Star Love came first, Indiana wrote a letter to Larry in 1973 stating, “it was really the special work that you commissioned for the opening of the ‘Old Hundred,’ Love Is God, that really set off the long chain that 'LOVE' has become.” Larry and Indiana maintained a friendship and wrote letters back and forth for many years. Indiana sent Larry and Wynn Aldrich a postcard using one of the first “LOVE” stamps when they were released by the U.S. Postal Service. Robert Indiana was included in The Aldrich’s 30th and 50th anniversary exhibitions and remains an important artist in the Museum’s history.
Top image: Larry Aldrich, Robert Indiana, and Joseph Hirshhorn standing in front of Love Is God in the Aldrich.