A contentious legal fight is looming over control of Robert Indiana’s estate.
Just days before the famed Pop Art icon died, the Morgan Art Foundation filed a lawsuit alleging that art publisher Michael McKenzie and Jamie Thomas—described in the suit as a “fisherman from Maine with no art expertise” who was granted power of attorney by Indiana in 2016—conspired to isolate the artist and sell millions of dollars in art attributed to Indiana but which were essentially forgeries. Now, as the New York Times notes, “the dispute is likely to broaden now into questions of who controls Mr. Indiana’s legacy and estate.”
The Morgan Foundation, which holds exclusive rights over several important works by Indiana, claimed in its 53-page complaint that the actions of Thomas and McKenzie, as well as the latter’s publishing business, American Image Art, are damaging the artist’s market, imperiling the work done by Indiana’s longtime agent Simon Salama-Caro, who spent years rebuilding the artist’s market but found himself increasingly unable to meet with Indiana in person.
According to the suit, there are several works attributed to Indiana that violate the Morgan Foundation’s exclusive control over the artist’s output—including, among other work, numerous prints and variations on the artist’s famous LOVE sculpture, including the version reading “HOPE,” which garnered attention during President Obama’s campaign in 2008. The suit alleges that Indiana told Salama-Caro and others that “McKenzie forced him into approving HOPE through emotional abuse and intimidation.
The Times also relays a separate incident recounted in the complaint:
In 2014, Mr. Salama-Caro’s son, Marc, surreptitiously filmed Mr. Indiana during a rare visit to his home and asked the artist about Mr. McKenzie and the proliferation of new works carrying his name.
“Help me,” Mr. Indiana says on the video clip. “How does one restrain Michael? He’s beyond me. He’s mischievous.”
Mr. McKenzie said Mr. Indiana was just making the point that Mr. McKenzie is always bombarding him with new ideas.
McKenzie vehemently denies the Morgan Foundation’s other allegations as well, telling the New York Times that Indiana’s ill health and his own wishes were what kept visitors away, and that the artist wholly conceived of and authored all the work attributed to him.