Robert Indiana died on May 19th, at age 89, at his home on Vinalhaven Island, more than an hour’s ferry ride off the coast of Maine. The day before he died, a federal lawsuit was filed by the Morgan Art Foundation, which claims to hold the rights to several of Indiana’s best-known work, accusing New York art Publisher, Michael McKenzie and Indiana’s caretaker, Jamie L. Thomas, of taking advantage of the aging artist.
“They have isolated Indiana from his friends and supporters,” the lawsuit says, “forged some of Indiana’s most recognizable works, exhibited the fraudulent works in museums, and sold the fraudulent works to unsuspecting collectors.” McKenzie and Thomas have filed a countersuit.
An FBI agent, investigating possible art fraud, requested an autopsy. Maine’s Medical Examiner’s office said that foul play was not suspected, but the cause and manner of death was ruled undetermined and may be changed if new information presents itself, which leaves the door open for future investigation. Indiana’s Vinalhaven Island home was emptied of art works for probate, but many pieces are still missing. A court hearing is scheduled for August 15.
The Irony of LOVE for Robert Indiana
Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana on September 13, 1928, he took his home state’s name as his own after he moved to New York in 1954. Indiana began to draw at a very young age, was valedictorian of his high school graduating class, served three years in the U.S Air Force, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art, before moving to New York.
The LOVE image became an icon when Indiana used it for a design on a 1964 Christmas card commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art. The image became wildly popular with the general public. Cities around the world commissioned Indiana to do LOVE sculptures and the U.S. Postal Service used the design for an 8-cent Valentine’s Day stamp in 1973 that sold more than 300 million copies, and became one of the best-selling commemorative stamps in history.
Indiana’s design was used on t-shirts, mugs, paperweights and posters, all without any financial gain for the artist, who didn’t have a copyright on the original design. “Everybody knows my LOVE,” he told an interviewer in 1976, “but they don’t have the slightest idea what I look like. I’m practically anonymous.”
To make matters worse, art critics and collectors accused Indiana of being a commercial sell-out and stopped buying his art. In 1979 Indiana moved to Vinalhaven and worked in relative seclusion. His 2008 HOPE poster, unveiled at the Democratic National Convention, renewed Indiana’s reputation and awakened a renewed interest in his art. In 2013, the Whitney held an retrospective of his work. Indiana’s will is being challenged. The legacy of his work and the future his Vinalhaven home are in dispute.
Robert Indiana at VFA
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Bob Keyes Foul play ruled out in death of Robert Indiana, but the saga is far from over Portland Press Herald. Posted July 20 Updated July 21.
Anny Shaw and Jillian Steinhauer Will Robert Indiana’s legacy get stuck in legal battle? The Art Newspaper July 19, 2018.
The Associated Press Pop Artist Robert Indiana’s Cause of Death ‘Undetermined’ July 20, 2018