Robert Indiana Legacy Battle Resolved
June 15th, 2021
The dispute as to who should retain control of the legacy of late artist Robert Indiana has reached a conclusion after three fraught years. The artist’s estate, known as the Star of Hope Foundation, and the New York–based Morgan Art Foundation, which holds the copyright to Indiana’s iconic “Love” series, on Friday agreed to drop their overlapping claims and counterclaims and instead work together to preserve and promote the artist’s legacy.
“The future is bright for the market and legacy of Robert Indiana, and the estate is pleased to have helped create this success,” said James Brannan, the attorney representing the artist’s estate. Luke Nikas, the attorney representing the Morgan Art Foundation, described the settlement as “an excellent outcome for all involved” and said his client was “thrilled” at the prospect of partnering with Star of Hope, which will now be able to establish a museum in the artist’s former home on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine, as he had wished. No details of the partnership have yet been revealed.
The fight over right’s to Indiana’s legacy was launched in May 2018, the day before the artist died, when the Morgan Foundation filed suit in federal court against Indiana for defamation, copyright infringement, violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act, and breach of contract. Upon the artist’s death, Star of Hope, the nonprofit designated by Indiana to oversee his assets and establish a museum in his former home, became a defendant in the suit, which additionally alleged that Indiana’s caretaker, Jamie Thomas, and Michael McKenzie, founder of New York publisher American Image Art, had worked to isolate the ailing, elderly Indian and had sold artworks made under his name without his knowledge. Representative among these were a WINE work sold to the magazine Wine Enthusiast, and a BRAT sculpture for a Wisconsin sausage maker, both replicating Indiana’s widely reproduced “Love” series, with its tipped second letter. The BRAT sculpture was cited by the Morgan Foundation as being the most damaging to the artist’s brand and reputation.
While matters between Indiana’s estate and the Morgan Art Foundation are officially settled, the Morgan Foundation’s suit against McKenzie, who holds a contract allowing him to make and sell works based on Indiana’s 2008 HOPE sculpture, which closely recalls the “Love” series, is still pending. Also remaining open is a lawsuit brought against Indiana’s estate by the state of Maine, which claims that the estate frittered away its assets by paying excessive legal fees in the course of its own litigation with the Morgan Foundation.