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Installation view with the sculpture The American Dream visible in the far left back, the sculpture Ash in the front left, and The Electric American Dream against the right wall

LOVE (1966–2006), on display in Robert Indiana: The Sweet Mystery, Procuratie Vecchie, Venice. Photo: Marco Cappelletti; Artwork: © Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The simultaneously eccentric and emblematic Americanness of Robert Indiana is on prismatic display in Venice, where a career-spanning survey titled “The Sweet Mystery” opened at the historic Procuratie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco as one of the collateral events around the Venice Biennale.

Born under the name Robert Clark to a mother who waited tables at a roadside diner and a father who worked for the energy company Phillips 66, the artist grew up in the American Midwest during the Great Depression and reinvented himself as a searching young man in post-war New York. In the latter half of the 1950s he moved to Coenties Slip—the storied Lower Manhattan loft land prospected by a group of artists including Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, Lenore Tawney, and Jack Youngerman—and changed his name in tribute to his home state. It was an act of reinvention, of a sort, and in line with the kind of shapeshifting that Indiana made part of his legacy before his death in 2018, at the age of 89.