Letters, numbers, shapes — there is something very basic, very primal, about Robert Indiana’s most popular works, such as the red-and-blue Love sculpture at Sixth Ave. and Fifty-Fifth St. and the similar Hope at Fifty-Third and Seventh. “People don’t stop to think about how beautiful numbers are. Perhaps for the same reason that they don’t stop to think about how beautiful words are,” Indiana has said. “It’s the role of the artist — my particular role, if you will — to make words and numbers very, very special.” In honor of his ninetieth birthday year, the Paul Kasmin Gallery is showing two pieces by the Indiana-born visual artist, who lives and works in Maine and was the subject of a major Whitney retrospective, “Beyond Love,” in 2014. Love Wall, which was originally planned as a painting, sits by itself in a large, open white space, a twelve-foot-high, four-foot deep stacking of the word “Love” in unpainted Cor-ten steel, arranged so that the four tilted “O”s come together diagonally at the center. In 2007, the work was installed on the Park Avenue meridian at Fifty-Seventh St., part of the exhibition “Art in the Parks: Celebrating 40 Years”; it is much more peaceful here, away from the traffic and the noise, just relaxing by itself, giving viewers private moments to contemplate its message. It’s also more abstract when looked at with the naked eye; seeing it through the lens of a camera gives the words and letters more definition.
Meanwhile, in a room at the back is ONE through ZERO, a wall sculpture of the numbers zero through nine, each on its own small base, the first row featuring 1, 2, and 3, the second row 7, 6, 5, and 4, and the third row 8, 9, and 0. “Our very lives are structured around numbers,” Indiana has noted. “Everything we do is reckoned on numbers.” ONE through ZERO has a hypnotic quality as you scan the numbers, follow their order, and consider the different color pairings for each numeral (which were inspired by the work of his friend and colleague Ellsworth Kelly). The numbers and letters go beyond mere Pop art and instead conjure up cultural symbols and language and reference life and death in a world Indiana would “like to cover with Hope,” as he said on the Today show in 2010.