Numbers by Robert Indiana

I have removed the content of this post in response to the following letter from the IMA:

It has come to the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s attention that you are displaying images taken on the IMA grounds on your web site ( The IMA requests that you immediately cease using the image of the Numbers sculpture where you are standing inside the Zero. This is a violation of the copyright held by the artist of this sculpture, which is maintained by the IMA. These copyrighted works of art require that any time the IMA wishes to use images of them that we must first obtain permission from the appropriate rights holder and pay for the usage, if required.

Additionally, your actions are also in violation of the IMA’s Photography Policy and general guidelines for interaction with artworks, which expressly state:

· “To help us preserve the outdoor sculptures…do not climb, lean or sit on any artworks. Do not place props or equipment on the sculptures.”

· “Keeping You and the Art Safe: Please keep a safe distance from art objects inside the museum as well as outside on the grounds. Leaning on sculptures, walls or cases, or climbing on platforms can endanger both the art and you. The safest way to view a work of art is from at least one foot away.”

Further information about the IMA’s Photography Policy can be found here: and general Museum Messaging can be found here: Both of these are posted at the Welcome Center of the Museum before you enter the galleries.

The IMA cannot endorse your use of the image showing you standing in the Zero sculpture. The Museum is charged with the maintenance and long-term preservation of these works, which includes reducing unnecessary interactions with the surface of sculptures. The placement of foreign objects on their surfaces may cause damage requiring conservation to the works, which could have been avoided by following the guidelines and policies of the Museum. As you know from your post, the Numbers were only recently re-painted and returned to being on view at the IMA. We hope to preserve the recent restoration for at least another 30 years and reduce any further chipping away of the painted surface.

Therefore, we ask that you immediately remove this image from your web site that was taken on the IMA grounds. Failure to remove this image from your web site will lead to further legal actions from the IMA.


8 thoughts on “Numbers by Robert Indiana

  1. Gorgeous! I have to think that this is a great way to draw little kids to the museum too. Wonderful…

  2. Ha, I’m guessing it’s not only okay to climb around the numbers, but encouraged… when I last visited IMA, the numbers were on the lawn and kids were climbing all around.

  3. I am curious whether IMA’s email was signed by a specific individual, and whether that individual is qualified to officially address legal matters on IMA’s behalf. Based on the flaws and unlawyerly vagueness, I’m sure it was just a staff member upset that you climbed on numbers. A lawyer (at least not a competent one) would have never sent that email. It actually does NOT give any legal reason why your photos must be taken down (nor does their photography policy, which I’ve read & followed and that’s why I and thousands of others have IMA pics posted all over the net).

    As far as I can tell, the only thing they could have legally done is bill you for damages. And even that would require them to prove that the damage was caused by you, something you could easily cast doubt on by producing years of photos of people climbing on the sculptures.

    If I were you I’d have a little fun and fwd the email to their lawyer for comment & advice. I’m sure it would end up an agenda item at their next staff meeting, something along the lines of “Guidelines for staff members sending emails about legal matters…”

  4. The letter was signed, but I don’t want to demonize an individual and so didn’t include the name here. When I received this email, I deleted all of the content here and requested [and received] permission to replace it with this letter. For the sake of continuity, since people had commented on and linked to this post, I didn’t want to delete the entire post.

    You’re right that I’m not the only person to have shared photos of the art online for personal purposes, but my only concern is this blog. I post stuff here that I find cool or inspiring, and I guess there are two benefits: interesting content for you to check out and a bit of a free PR benefit to whatever entity is highlighted. I’m not trying to cause trouble for ourselves or anyone else.

    After I removed all the content, I was actually asked to put it all back sans the photo of me with the Zero. From my perspective, the argument had already been made that all of the photos were in violation, so I had already deleted all the content. If an institution is going to play hardball with me, I have to comply and, if they then decide that they prefer selective enforcement, I can’t trust that after having been slapped with a bunch of far-reaching quasi-legalese.

    There are plenty of other inspiring things in the world for me to experience and share here, and I don’t have the time, energy or even the principles to argue about a few photos that I innocently posted online. Upward and onward!

  5. Well you are definitely a nicer person than I am. I would have regarded this as a teachable moment. Specifically, to teach someone not to send a legalesque email on behalf of their employer if they don’t understand the law or know their own organization’s rules or just generally have no idea what they’re are talking about. It seems like IMA might have done that, based on their follow-up.

    Denial of photographer’s rights is a big peeve of mine. I’ve been told so many times “photography is not allowed” by people who have no idea what the law is or what a copyright means. I used to be nice about explaining it but not anymore.

    Aside from all this, I’m sure we all agree that the IMA is a fine museum for all ages and well worth the drive from Cincy. I was particularly impressed with their interactive rooms for children & young adults, which made a point to engage learning-disabled kids. Coincidentally, it was just yesterday I read an article about how arts education produces more community-engaged adults!

  6. The IMA is great, which is why I’ve posted about some of the sculptures at 1000 Acres before, why I shared this artwork, and why I’d planned a post about another one of their installations, which I’ve now decided not to publish.

    It’s obvious that the intent of this letter was intimidation, not just policy enforcement, and this simply isn’t my battle. I don’t think I’m a nicer person than you. There should be people out there on the side of personal use, and taking the time to have a discussion about copyright law is definitely worthy. I guess I’m just taking the path of least resistance.

    Technically speaking, I don’t always have the right to share all the content I post here, but people are normally happy that I’m giving a bit of exposure to something. Realistically, if I had to always research image policies or ask permission, I wouldn’t bother with this blog because it’s just a fun side-project for me, not my job. It’s fun to share photos of cool things; that’s all. It’s just as easy not to share.

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