Robert Indiana ONE through ZERO

Robert Indiana (1928–2018)

ONE through ZERO


cor-ten steel on painted aluminium base

33 3/4 x 33 x 17 in / 85.7 x 83.8 x 43.2 cm (each, including base)

edition of 3 plus 2 artist’s proofs


This is the cor-ten steel 30-inch version of ‘One through Zero’, a grouping of ten number sculptures which was first realised, on a monumental scale, in the early 1980s, as part of a commission from Melvin Simon & Associates, to be gifted to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The large-scale sculpture was Indiana’s first translation of numbers into sculptural form, devised from the wide, curving, looped numerals of his ten-panel paintings (1 to 0) which comprised ‘Numbers’, 1965, as well as ‘The Cardinal Numbers’ of 1966. The three-dimensional, eight foot high numbers were, with the exception of the grey zero, painted in bright, contrasting two-colour schemes.


Indiana was inspired, in his concept for these number sculptures, by the popular, mid-19th century, American tradition of narrative imagery which depicted in one form, or another, the cycle of life, from birth to death through childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. In particular, whilst Artist-in-Residence at Dartmouth College in 1970, Indiana was given a copy of a 19th century lithograph by Nathaniel Currier, ‘The Life and Age of Man: Stages of Man’s Life, from the Cradle to the Grave’, c. 1850. The narrative thread of the ‘ages of man’ is represented by specific numerals: 1 birth, 2 infancy, 3 youth, 4 adolescence, 5 pre-prime of life, 6 prime of life, 7 early autumn, 8 autumn, 9 warning, 0 death.


Numbers first appeared in Indiana’s sculpture assemblages and paintings in the 1960s, in word and in Arabic numeral form, both singly and in groups. . Indiana often appropriated materials that he found abandoned in and around his studio on the Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, New York. His number forms were derived from a found printer’s calendar and a set of brass die-cut stencils, originally used in the shipping trade. Indiana stated that, ‘the numbers had a kind of robustness and… crude vigor which I liked.’


Thematically, numbers are as central to Indiana’s art as words. The simple, clear, universally understood nature of these symbols provided a base from which Indiana could explore formal possibilities – from the stencilled numbers, painted on his early found-object sculptures, to the typography of the number sculptures, originating from the old calendar – as well as the significance, and narrative, numbers could be imbued with, both on a personal and public level.

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Summer 2018


Numbers fill my life. 
They fill my life even more than love. 
We are immersed in numbers from the moment we are born ... 
By creating them, I’ve invested those numbers with a quality they have never had before.


– Robert Indiana