Robert Indiana’s eight-foot Cor-Ten ONE Through ZERO (The Ten Numbers) is a monumental example of the artist’s long-held fascination with the power of numbers. The series of sculptures perfectly encapsulates Indiana’s multifaceted engagement with the symbolic and formal aspects of numbers, a subject that stands as one of his most important iconographic themes. Indiana credited his enduring interest in numbers to the formative experience of moving households multiple times as a child, and believed that life was structured around numbers. Their extensive potential as a subject matter lies in their universality; understood across cultures, they engender multiple references and significances, based both on individual experiences and shared cultural meanings.
Numbers first appeared in Indiana’s work in the late 1950s, when he began applying stenciled numbers, which served primarily as abstract titles, to his sculptural assemblages. Numbers as a subject in their own right became a signature motif of Indiana’s painting in the 1960s, their forms inspired by the robust Arabic numerals of an old printer’s calendar that Indiana found in his loft in Coenties Slip in early 1961. The artist carefully shaped and refined these numbers, isolating them for portrait-like images in works such as his 1965 Numbers, a group of ten large-scale canvases representing the numerals one through zero. In these works the numbers, with their mix of fleshy serifs, voluminous curves, and flat, hard-edge lines, are treated with a centrality and individuality more commonly associated with human subjects.
Indiana’s numbers have an inherent sculptural quality, which the artist was able to fully explore in his number sculptures. ONE Through ZERO was first executed between 1980 and 1983 as a series of eight-foot painted aluminum sculptures, a special commission that was donated to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He later created several series of number sculptures in different scales and finishes. The diverse exhibitionary possibilities of the Cor-Ten ONE Through ZERO are illustrated by the various ways the numbers were displayed in cities throughout Spain and Portugal between 2006–08, and in Milan during the 2008 exhibition Robert Indiana a Milano. The Ten Numbers, displayed on important boulevards in Madrid, Valencia, Bilbao, and Lisbon, and on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, became part of each particular urban landscape, giving the public a unique local experience of the same work. In 2019 the sculpture was displayed in Regent's Park, London, as part of Frieze Sculpture.