Jul 23, 2018

Robert Indiana’s legacy is tied up in a legal fracas between his longtime organization and two close associates.

Robert Indiana, the artist whose iconic LOVE sculptures and designs became some of the most recognizable artworks of the 20th century, died in May at the age of 89. His passing came just one day after a lawsuit was filed to fight for control of his legacy. The suit alleged that the artist’s assistant Jamie Thomas—who was given power of attorney in the artist’s will—and the art publisher Michael McKenzie “exploited” Indiana for their own financial gain, claiming that “They have isolated Indiana from his friends and supporters, forged some of Indiana’s most recognizable works, exhibited the fraudulent works in museums, and sold the fraudulent works to unsuspecting collectors for millions of dollars.”
The Art Newspaper has a deep dive into how the suit will impact Indiana’s legacy, and found that it could affect the artist’s desire to establish a museum at his home and studio on the island of Vinalhaven in Maine. In a will signed in May 7th 2016, Indiana named Thomas the director of such an institution, and gave him power of attorney, but a lawyer representing the Morgan Art Foundation—the organization that has maintained the lucrative copyright of the “LOVE” works since the 1990s—maintains that Thomas’s alleged misdeeds against the artist make him unqualified to lead any such institution. The foundation has the backing of Indiana’s longtime dealer Paul Kasmin, his patron and collector John Wilmerding, and representatives at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which staged a retrospective of the artist in 2013.
A pre-trial hearing was set to be held in Manhattan district court Monday. The Art Newspaper notes that the artist’s estate is estimated to be worth $50 million. Meanwhile, the results of a medical examination into Indiana’s cause of death came back “undetermined” on Friday, but foul play has been ruled out, the Associated Press reported.