Back in the very early 2000s, the Indiana State Museum was busily constructing a new building and the architect, William Brown (formerly BDMD Architects), and exhibition designer, Ralph Appelbaum, wanted a feature artwork for the nearly 300,000 square foot building. They looked no further than Robert Indiana for this project. What Indiana came up with was “Indiana” stacked vertically; he calls it an obelisk, and what he created has become an icon for the museum.
Deciding on what colors to paint the sculpture was easy for Indiana:
“I have an Indiana flag hanging in my home,” said Indiana in a 2002 interview in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine. “I’ve always like the combination of blue and gold, the state colors. It just seemed logical to use them on the letters.”
The sculpture, which is the biggest he has ever made, towers 55 feet high in the center of “Governor Frank O’Bannon Great Hall.” The cost of the commission was sponsored by Polly Horton Hix, an Indianapolis-based philanthropist.
Indiana liked the sculpture and location so much that he tried to arrange for it to be his final resting place. This would have taken Indiana’s connection to the state to a whole new level. Never missing an opportunity to make a play on words, Indiana remarked in the 2002 interview,
“It was a chance for Indiana to contain Indiana.”
Ultimately, the Indiana State Museum decided not to allow Indiana to be buried under his biggest work.
However, the Governor of Indiana at the time, Frank O’Bannon, did recognize Indiana’s contributions and dedication to the state by declaring the day that the sculpture was dedicated, April 9, 2002, as “Robert Indiana Day.”
You can see the sculpture when you first come into the museum from either entrance, but the most impressive experience is to enter from the Indiana Central Canal side. Mark Ruschman, the Chief Curator for Fine Arts at the Indiana State Museum, said the piece is the most popular artwork in the collection.
“It couldn’t fit better in the space, and it’s one of the artworks that we hope to have on view for a long, long time; as long as the building stands,” said Ruschman. “It’s become an enduring image for the museum, because it’s an enduring object. I don’t think an hour goes by that someone isn’t standing in front of that sculpture getting their picture taken.”