Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” is at the center of a $150-million legal battle.
One of Robert Indiana's LOVE sculptures in New York City. Image by Maurizio Pesce via Wikimedia Commons.
Robert Indiana’s famed LOVE design is at the center of an ongoing legal dispute that started shortly before the artist’s death in 2018. In May of that year, the Morgan Art Foundation filed suit against the artist’s caretaker, Jamie Thomas, as well as Michael McKenzie, founder of the New York-based publishing company American Image Art. The suit alleged that Thomas manipulated Indiana into allowing McKenzie to sell works falsely attributed to the artist for at least $30 million in total sales.
This year, on April 23rd, McKenzie filed a counterclaim accusing the Morgan Art Foundation of “one of the most massive art frauds in history” by copyrighting Indiana’s LOVE design, which McKenzie claims has been in the public domain since 1964.
In a letter sent to judge Analisa Torres and quoted by The Art Newspaper, McKenzie claimed the Morgan Art Foundation had made fraudulent copyright claims on more than 1,000 sculptures, whose total retail value is “believed to be well above $100M,” as well as roughly one million LOVE-related objects, which represent an additional $50 million in sales. McKenzie is also seeking to cancel the foundation’s two federal trademarks, which relate to the design and reproduction of the LOVE design, claiming that because Indiana abandoned all intellectual property rights long ago, LOVE is now in the public domain.
The design, which Indiana first created in 1964, came to widespread fame the following year, when it was used as a Museum of Modern Art holiday card. McKenzie claimed that the Morgan Foundation’s fraudulent copyright registration of that design has created “unfair competition” with American Image Art’s HOPE series of works, which was created in conjunction with Indiana in 2008.