In this May 14, 2009 file photo, pop artist Robert Indiana, 80, poses in the kitchen at his home on Vinalhaven Island, Maine. Indiana, best known for his 1960s LOVE series, died from respiratory failure Saturday, May 19, 2018, at his home in Maine, Indiana's attorney said. He was 89. Credit: Pat Wellenbach | AP

Robert Indiana, the famed artist known for his pop art of the bold word “LOVE,” died on Vinalhaven Saturday at the age of 89, his attorney announced.

That was a day after an explosive lawsuit was filed in which two of Indiana’s associates are accused of isolating the artist and producing fraudulent artworks under his name.

The Morgan Art Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday claiming New York art publisher Michael McKenzie and Indiana’s caretaker, Jamie Thomas, effectively hid the artist away from “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.”

McKenzie reportedly told the New York Times that the disputed artworks — including some which have been exhibited at the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, among other locations — were conceived by and authorized by Indiana himself. And the art publisher told the newspaper that caretaker Thomas was limiting visitors on Indiana’s orders.

“Bob does not want to see anybody,” McKenzie reportedly told the Times. “He just feels, like, ‘I am old, I need to eat a lot of soup. I am trying to keep it together.’”

The art publisher also accused the Morgan Art Foundation, which said decades ago it struck a deal to reproduce and sell limited editions of Indiana’s works, of failing to keep up with agreed-upon royalty payments to the artist. The organization denied the claim, according to the Times.

The foundation’s lawsuit argues a Morgan advisor who was close to Indiana met with him in Vinalhaven in 2014 to discuss concerns about McKenzie, and during that conversation, Indiana said the art publisher was a “loose cannon, out of control” and that he “doesn’t even ask permission” before creating what were purportedly Robert Indiana artworks.

The lawsuit goes on to allege that the artist confirmed to the Morgan advisor that he had never before seen some of the artworks McKenzie was promoting as Robert Indiana pieces, including an artwork depicting the word “CHAI” in the style of the famed “LOVE” piece.

The foundation claimed that in the aftermath of the 2014 meeting, Thomas began sending vulgar and threatening emails from Indiana’s email account telling the Morgan representative to leave the artist alone, which the organization argued was suspicious because the language was out of character for Indiana.

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Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.