BY JANET STEINBERG
Every February, as Valentine’s Day approaches, love is in the air. John Paul Young’s song said it best: “Love Is In the air… everywhere I look around… love is in the air. Every sight and every sound… love is in the air.”
However, in many places around the world, love is not only in the air, it is also on the ground. On 365 days of the year, when traveling around the globe, you can put a little LOVE in your life by including American artist Robert Indiana’s 50+ pop art images on your itinerary. This iconic sculpture (pictured on a US postage stamp in 1973) consists of the letters L, and a sideways-slanted O, over the letters V and E.
Please allow me to give you a head start with a few cities where you can find Robert Indiana’s LOVE… and much more.
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA: The capital of the Hoosier state, Indianapolis is much more than a venue for the Indy 500. This once sleepy Indiana town transformed from “Naptown”… to big city… to world-class metropolis. Where cows, sheep, and horses once grazed on the little knoll in the center of an infant town, a symbolic monument now stands at the center of a large metropolis. It is from that impressive 284-foot, limestone monument that Monument Circle gets its name.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art is home to the original Robert Indiana sculpture where it was installed in 1970. Displayed outdoors for many decades, the elements caused corrosion to the steel sculpture. Following restoration, it was moved inside the museum in 2017. The Indianapolis Museum of Art, located on a picturesque 150-acre setting, is one of the oldest art museums in the country.
Nearby is the Crown Hill Cemetery, the third largest cemetery in the country. Notable burials and memorials include President Benjamin Harrison, three vice presidents, Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley and the infamous bank robber, John Dillinger. It is said that people often leave money on Dillinger’s grave because they see him as some type of Robinhood-like character who stole from the rich to give to the poor.
The Indianapolis Zoo was the first in the nation to receive triple accreditation as a combined zoo, aquarium and botanical garden. Located on 64 acres in White River State Park, its facilities include a fully-submerged underwater Dolphin Adventure. The “cageless” zoo also features 235 different animal species in simulated natural habitats.
When day is done, treat your love to a romantic dinner. No longer are visitors, inquiring about an excellent restaurant in Indianapolis, told to continue onward to Chicago. St. Elmo, which opened its doors in 1902, is a legendary landmark. It is where business deals are consummated, marriages are proposed, anniversaries are commemorated and the best of times are celebrated by the best of friends.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA: Looking for love in all the right places? Try Philadelphia, “the place that loves you back”. And what better place to begin than at Love Park, a bustling urban plaza. Love Park, one of the top parks in Philadelphia, is a simple little park consisting of a geyser-like fountain and a bright red sculpture that screams LOVE. Little wonder that Robert Indiana’s widely recognized LOVE sculpture has become a world-renowned symbol of Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love.
Nicknamed Philly, the most populous city in the state of Pennsylvania is a magical meld of 18th century history and 21st century renaissance. Sights along “America’s Most Historic Square Mile” include Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Magna Carta, you might stroll down the cobblestoned Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest inhabited street, or toss a penny on Benjamin Franklin’s Grave. This tradition is said to bring good luck.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, renowned for its architecture and fine collections, may now be as well known for its role in the “Rocky” Films. In 1980, a tall bronze statue of the Rocky Balboa character was commissioned by Sylvester Stallone. In 1982, it was placed at the top of the stairs for the filming of Rocky III. The Rocky Statue and the “Rocky Steps” are undeniably two of the most popular attractions in Philadelphia. People arrive daily at the bottom of the stairs and run up the grand staircase to take a picture with their arms outstretched in the famous two-arms-raised salute.
Philadelphia is a city that takes its food seriously. If it’s knishes, kugel, corned beef, or chopped liver you crave, head to the Famous 4th St. Delicatessen. Since 1923, the white-tiled Famous Deli has been a living museum and a tradition in Philadelphia. It is a place to nosh a little, kibitz a little, and enjoy a lot. It is also the place where the chef whipped up French fries for Jennifer Lopez, and chicken pot pies for Ben Affleck when they took over the place during the shooting of “Jersey Girl” on September 6, 2002.
NEW YORK, NY: Love is always in the air in New York City… and also, it is usually found on the ground. For many years the dazzling red,12-foot-high LOVE sculpture stood on the corner of 55th Street and Sixth Avenue. Whenever I walked by it, it made me smile… it made me happy… it made me grateful for all the love I have had in my lifetime. However, suddenly, in 2019, it was gone… out for repairs. After several years, with conservation work completed, it was returned to the city to once again be exhibited.
However, love is fickle, and in the LOVE sculpture’s absence, I fell in love again. This time it was not with a sculpture, but with walls in a bar… walls that made me smile… walls that made me happy. But these were not just any old walls… in any old bar. These were walls in Bemelmans Bar, located in the tony Upper East Side’s Carlisle Hotel. This bar is a New York classic, named in honor of Ludwig Bemelmans, a successful artist and creator of the classic “Madeleine” children’s books. In 1947, in exchange for a year and a half of accommodations at The Carlyle for himself and his family, Bemelmans transformed the hotel’s bar with a mural depicting whimsical scenes of Central Park that included picnicking-rabbits and ice-skating elephants. This is the perfect romantic bar in which to clink champagne flutes on Valentine’s Day.
VARIATIONS ON A THEME: LOVE is universal. The spelling may be different… the letters may look different… but love is still love! Indiana’s design, with its distinctively inclined “O,” has been translated into several materials, colors and languages (such as Spanish and Hebrew).
Robert Indiana created the Spanish AMOR sculpture in response to the changing demographics of the US. He wanted to speak to his fellow citizens. AMOR made its first appearance on a plaza in Madrid in 2006. It is now permanently installed in Philadelphia’s Sister Cities Park at 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
In 1977, Indiana created a Hebrew LOVE sculpture for the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In 4 Hebrew letters (אהבה), the sculpture depicts the word ‘AHAV’, the Hebrew word for ‘love’.
You can find Robert Indiana’s LOVE in 50+ places around the world. However, don’t try to find true love in 50+ places around the world. True love will find you!
Janet Steinberg, winner of 55 national travel-writing awards resides in Cincinnati but calls the world her home.