The Relationship Between Math and Art: Robert Indiana

robert indiana sculptureAt the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robert Indiana’s colorful “Numbers One Through Zero” sculptures, while at first seeming to be merely graphic and fun, make the viewer stop and think: why numbers? Why like this? Why these colors, this size, this arrangement?

According to Indiana, “each [number is] loaded with multiple references and significances.” His fascination with numbers, which led to the creation of multiple “Numbers” sculpture series, stems from Indiana’s “long-held fascination with the power of numbers,” ignited by the “formative experience” of moving often throughout his childhood and adolescence, and “the variety of meanings and associations that numbers can generate,” both at personal and societal levels (

In “Numbers One Through Zero” each number is associated with a different phase in Indiana’s life and the color combinations used serve to reinforce his personal timeline. Indiana originally arranged the numbers from 1 to 0, rather than the more commonly seen 0-1, because for him, 1 represents birth and 0 represents death. The sculptures have not always been arranged in this way, however, nor are they in this sequence now. They have been part of many outdoor exhibitions in cities such as New York and London, and the sculptures were actually spread around Indianapolis for quite a time before the entire piece came together at the Indianapolis Museum of Art where it was first displayed in 1992. Currently, the sculptures are arranged in a sequence to represent milestones in the artist’s life:

41- Pearl Harbor took place while I lived in Indianapolis

29- The crash which I experienced as a child on the East Side

50- Suggesting in part my hometown’s most famous institution: the last zero lost on a fast curve

76- The United States birthday every hundred years

38- My father worked for many years on this street (

The museum’s “Numbers” series is the original set, but since 1980, Indiana’s fascination with numbers has continued and he has created many more series in various sizes and materials. What numerical associations have you created throughout your lifetime?


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