Robert Indiana (born Robert Clark in Indiana) may be most well known for his graphic LOVE prints and sculptures, the original of which was created for a Christmas card sent out by the Museum of Modern Art in the 1960s. However, that image only plays a very small role in his current retrospective show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, called, naturally, Robert Indiana: Beyond Love. Indiana’s bold and colorful style can be seen in his diverse oeuvre, spanning over fifty years, yet it can be argued that the popularity of his LOVE series has overshadowed many of his other works. While LOVE is graphic and certainly symbolic, it is also not copyright protected, which has lead to hundreds of unauthorized copies, flooding our artistic landscape with Indiana’s interpretation of February’s favorite word.
The show at the Whitney includes paintings and sculptures created by Indiana up until 2004 (therefore not including reproductions of HOPE, created in 2008, with proceeds supporting Obama’s campaign). Among the symbolic complexity of Indiana’s works, it is the familiar palette of bold shapes and stark primary and secondary colors that have remained a constant fixture in Indiana’s career that stayed with me long after I left the show.
If you have a chance to check out this exhibition before it closes on January 5th, I fully encourage you to go—if not to see the collection teeming with Indiana’s symbolist pursuit of the American Dream (here)—than to try out Danny Meyer’s restaurant Untitled, while visiting the Whitney.
Or at the very least, channel Indiana’s simple shapes and strong colors in these delicious roll out cookies:
Vanilla and Chocolate Roll-Out Cookies
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 cup cocoa powder
royal icing and edible sugar letters (or strong piping skills!) for decorating
In a large bowl, beat butter on medium speed for a couple minutes, until fluffy and light. Add the sugar and salt, and beat another couple of minutes. Add in the egg, mix for another minute, and then reduce the mixer speed to low, vanilla, mixing completely (about a minute) between each addition. In a small bowl, sift together the flours and add into the wet mixture. Mix only until combined, and then separate the dough into two equal mixtures. Set one aside, and stir the cocoa powder into the other, stirring until mixed in completely. Gather each bowl of dough into a ball, flatten into a disc, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate, and allow to chill for at least 4 hours, or up to 2 days.
When ready to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F, and remove one disc of dough from the fridge at a time, dividing into two. Let dough soften a bit at room temperature, and when able, roll out between two pieces of parchment paper, until about 1/8 inch thick. Remove top piece of parchment, and cut out using cookie cutters of your choice. To stick with my Robert Indiana “Beyond Love” theme, I used stars and diamonds. Bake one sheet of cookies at a time, for about 8-10 minutes. I found that the tips of the stars browned quicker than the bodies of the stars, so watch carefully! As your cookies cool, mix together the royal icing, which can be stored in the fridge until all of the cookies are cooled completely and ready to be iced.
3 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
food color in primary colors
Using an electric mixer, beat together the powdered sugar and egg whites for a few minutes, until thick and shiny. Add the lemon juice, mixing to combine, and divide into individual portions, with food colorings, if desired. I then spooned the icing into individual plastic bags (Ziploc or other), and then cut the tip to form a disposable pastry bag. Gently pipe the icing out along the outline of the cookies, working as slowly as you need to, to ensure a steady hand. When cookies is outlined, gently spread the icing evenly on the cookie, using an angled spatula or non-serrated knife. No need to be a perfectionist here—as long as you stay within the outlines you created, the icing will glaze over evenly, creating a perfect, Robert Indiana-worthy cookie. I then took the decoration a step further, and added sugar decorating letters (here) to add a bit of the standard, stenciled typography that Indiana employs so frequently! Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
Recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan, published in Bon Appétit, December 2007, makes about 40 small / 20 large cookies
Featured art: LOVE, Sixth Avenue, NY, NY