ROCKLAND, Maine ― The estate of renowned pop artist Robert Indiana faces a new lawsuit, the latest in a costly legal battle that’s waged since the multi-millionaire died two years ago.
Michael McKenzie, of New York-based American Image Art, filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court in Portland, alleging that Indiana’s estate and its executor, Rockland attorney James Brannan, failed to adhere to the terms of a settlement reached last fall that would move forward in resolving a legal dispute over reproduction rights for the late artist’s work.
The terms of that agreement are confidential, so Brannan could not elaborate on the specifics of the settlement, but he denies the lawsuit’s claims.
“The estate is moving forward, not backward,” Brannan said.
Indiana, known for his iconic “LOVE” series, died at the age of 89 on May 19, 2018, at his home, the Star of Hope. He’s internationally known for his pop-art style and had been living in Maine since the late 1970s.
Since his death, Indiana’s estate has been embroiled in legal battles in Maine and New York. The day before he died he was named in a lawsuit filed by Morgan Art Foundation in New York federal court, which alleged that Indiana’s caretaker on Vinalhaven and McKenzie were isolating the artist and creating fraudulent work. The accused parties have denied those claims.
The value of Indiana’s estate has grown to about $100 million, the largest estate ever handled in Knox County. Most of this value is attributed to Indiana’s artwork.
In his will, Indiana directed that his assets be used to create and fund a nonprofit called the Star of Hope, which would serve as both a museum and arts education organization on Vinalhaven.
But as the legal fees pile up, the estate is having to funnel money away from his posthumous project to cover the mounting $4 million in litigation costs.
Earlier this year, the Maine Attorney General’s Office ― which oversees the distribution of funds to nonprofits, like the Star of Hope ― requested that the estate provide more details on the legal fees it is accruing. A hearing on that matter has been postponed until after the estate’s probate process has been completed, according to the Courier Gazette.
McKenzie, who worked with Indiana as an art publisher and collaborator for decades, laid claim to the reproduction rights of Indiana’s work involving the phrase “HOPE”, but the estate claims that McKenzie lost those rights when Indiana died.
According to the original contract between McKenzie and Indiana regarding reproduction of the “HOPE” artwork, if any disputes about the contract arise they must be resolved through arbitration, Brannan said.
Arbitration is a type of alternative dispute resolution, which is less formal and less costly than traditional court proceedings. Brannan said the arbitration ― which is playing out in New York ― was on track to be resolved by the end of the year. But the latest lawsuit could jeopardize that resolution.
The full lawsuit can be read here.