Robert Indiana, known for 'LOVE' sculpture, dies at 89

Robert Indiana's "LOVE" sculpture is shown after being reinstalled at JFK Plaza in February following renovations.

VINALHAVEN, Maine — Artist Robert Indiana, 89, creator of the iconic LOVE sculpture in Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Plaza, has died at his home in Maine.

Mr. Indiana, born Robert Clark, died Saturday of respiratory failure at his Victorian home in a converted Odd Fellows hall, a fraternal order lodge, where he had lived for years on Vinalhaven Island, said James Brannan, his attorney.

There are dozens of versions of Mr. Indiana's LOVE sculpture around the world, and even a second one in Philadelphia on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, but the sculpture in JFK Plaza is the one most associated with the City of Brotherly Love.

The 830-pound aluminum sculpture recently was refurbished while the plaza, nicknamed and best known as "LOVE Park," underwent a $20 million-plus renovation.

During the sculpture's restoration, it was discovered that it had been incorrectly repainted in 1988 with light blue on the sides instead of the original purple. It is now back to its original red, green, and purple.

Before the recent remodeling, LOVE Park had become a mecca for skateboarders, and the plaza and sculpture were featured in video games.

In 1998, Mr. Indiana created a version called AMOR, and one of those sculptures is permanently installed at Sister Cities Park on the Parkway.

Mr. Indiana came up with the LOVE design in the 1960s, and a version was installed at JFK Plaza in 1976 for the city's Bicentennial celebration. It was removed afterward but was returned because of its popularity.

The artist's other works include a HOPE design, similar to LOVE, in honor of former President Barack Obama.

"In some ways he was perhaps seen as the proverbial one-hit wonder because LOVE was so immensely iconic and immensely huge in pop culture. For better or for worse, it overshadowed some of his other contributions," said Dan Mills, the director at Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine.

Mr. Indiana, an Air Force veteran, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan (Maine) School of Sculpture and Painting, and the Edinburgh (Scotland) College of Art.

In his later years, Mr. Indiana was known for his increasingly reclusive life in Vinalhaven, 15 miles off the mainland, where he moved in 1978.

Friends had expressed concern for his well-being because he had not been heard from for some time. A lawsuit filed in New York City the day before his death suggested he was purposefully isolated by his caretakers.

Brannan declined to comment on the situation.

Kathleen Rogers, a friend and former publicist, told the Associated Press she was so concerned about his well-being that she contacted the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to investigate six to eight weeks ago.

Through tears, she said she did not want Mr. Indiana to be remembered for shutting out friends and closing his studio.

"He was a better guy than he's been portrayed as being. He was reclusive, cantankerous, and sometimes difficult. But he was a very loyal, loving man. He was the architect of love," she said.

As the story goes, Mr. Indiana, an Indiana native, settled in Maine after getting fed up with the art scene in New York.

But he told the AP in 2009 that he moved to his house — which a benefactor bought for him — when he needed a place to go after his lease ran out on his five-story studio and gallery in the Bowery section of New York City.

Mr. Indiana's desire for solitude was legendary.

He once stood up Obama at the White House. Another time he made crew members from NBC's Today show wait three days on the island before he would let them interview him.

In 2014, he disappointed dozens of fans by failing to make an appearance outside his home for an event dubbed International HOPE Day, which was inspired by his creativity. Events were held in several locations around the world.

Although he created a wealth of art, the iconic LOVE tended to overshadow his other work.

Decades later, Indiana's other art took center stage in a 2013 exhibit, "Robert Indiana: Beyond Love," at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. "Well, that's taken a while," he quipped.

In Maine, Mills said he was inspired by the Whitney's efforts to produce a 2016 exhibition, "Robert Indiana: Now and Then." It was one of the last major shows focusing on Indiana's work, Mills said.

Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.