Call Me Indiana belongs to a series of columns that Indiana began in 1964, and modified with the addition of gold paint in 1998. The other works are My Mother, My Father, Dillinger, Bob’s Column, and Call Me Ishmael. These columns were first exhibited with wheels in 2005 at the exhibition Robert Indiana: Wood, Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York. They were most recently on view at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, United Kingdom, in the exhibition Robert Indiana: Sculpture 1958–2018.
This sculpture illustrates the autobiographical nature of much of Indiana’s work. Its title, which is painted in stenciled letters around the column, addresses the artist’s 1958 decision to change his last name from Clark to Indiana. In a 1978 interview with Barbaralee Diamonstein Indiana explained “It happened at a psychological moment when, after struggling as a student, struggling for my own artistic identification, not for the main identity itself, things were coming together. I could feel that something was going to be happening shortly, and I didn’t want to have something nice happen with the burden of a name I didn’t like.”
The title is also a reference to the first line in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, “Call me Ishmael,” spoken by the lone survivor of Captain Ahab’s ill-fated pursuit of the white whale. The sculpture is thus linked to the column of that name as well as to a series of paintings from the early 1960s inspired by the 19th-century American authors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, and Melville. The paintings, which include The Calumet, Year of Meteors, and Melville, incorporate quotes from their writings. In Call Me Indiana the artist directly links himself to the narrator of Melville’s famous novel by incorporating the work’s first line, but substituting “Ishmael” with his name.