Indiana created the herm Five for the National Museum of American Art, on the occasion of his 1984 Wood Works: Constructions by Robert Indiana show. He conceived the work specifically to pair with his painting The Figure 5 (1963), which the institution had recently acquired. The concept of viewing works as designated pairs can be traced back to the artist’s time in Coenties Slip. Examples include the herm Ahab (1962), which Indiana paired with his painting The Melville Triptych (1961), and the herm Chief (1962), which relates to his painting The Calumet (1961). Indiana was eventually forced to abandon the idea of pairings; although he initially began creating sculptures from found objects because he did not have enough money for canvas, ultimately his supply of wood for herms was not enough to keep up with his paintings.
Five’s pairing with The Figure 5 differs from earlier pairings in that Indiana created it over 20 years after he finished his series of paintings in homage to Charles Demuth’s I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928). However, in Five he revives the formal vocabulary of earlier works. The painted double golden five against a red star can be found in four of his 1963 Demuth paintings, and the work’s stenciled title and wheels are characteristic of many of his Coenties Slip herms.