Art Market

Robert Indiana’s caregiver left him to “live in squalor and filth” in final years, his estate alleges.

Benjamin Sutton
Aug 16, 2019 4:39PM, via Portland Press Herald

A “LOVE” sculpture being removed from Robert Indiana's home in the summer of 2018. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images.

The estate of the late Pop artist Robert Indiana alleged in court documents filed Wednesday in Maine that his longtime caretaker left the artist to “live in squalor and filth” while helping himself to $1.1 million and more than 100 artworks. Indiana, who struggled to move past the incredible success of the iconic “LOVE” works he began producing in the 1960s, became increasingly reclusive later in life and died in May of last year at age 89. At the time of his death, Indiana’s estate was said to be worth $28 million, though more recent estimates suggest it is worth about $77 million.

The allegations appeared in a counterclaim filed by James Brannan, the attorney representing Indiana’s estate, against Jamie Thomas, who served as the artist’s caretaker from 2013 until his death (the artist had no immediate surviving family). The complaint also alleges that Thomas neglected his duties by allowing Indiana’s home—a late-19th century building dubbed the Star of Hope on the island of Vinalhaven in Maine—to fall into disrepair, resulting in the damaging and loss of many documents, books, and artworks. The filings are the latest volley in a multi-suit feud over Indiana’s work and estate.

Last month, Thomas sued the estate and Brannan for $2 million in legal fees related to a federal lawsuit over Indiana’s works, including the “LOVE” series. In a passage from this week’s filing, quoted by the Portland Press Herald, Brannan alleges:

In his complaint, Thomas portrays himself as a selfless caregiver who surrendered his private life to protect Indiana’s financial and physical well-being. [. . .] But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Thomas acted in his own self-interest: to improperly line his own pockets to the tune of approximately $1.1 million dollars over an 18-month period; to improperly secure funds, for his personal use from Indiana’s checking account; to remove, and claim as gifts, more than one hundred pieces of art, many of which are original Indiana works; to create and sell works of art, attributed to Indiana, that in fact, were Thomas’ own creations; to allow Indiana to live in squalor and filth despite his ample wealth; and to otherwise act in his own interest rather than the interest of his principal, Indiana.

An attorney for Thomas described the accusations as “scurrilous” to the Press Herald, suggesting that Brannan was merely repeating falsehoods from another lawsuit over Indiana’s estate filed by the Morgan Art Foundation, which controls the reproductions of his “LOVE” works.

Last November, in order to help cover some of its legal costs and expenses associated with repairing the Star of Hope, Indiana’s estate consigned works by Ed Ruscha and Ellsworth Kelly valued at $4.2 million to Christie’s.

Benjamin Sutton