One day after Robert Indiana’s personal representative agreed in September to not to sell artwork to pay the mounting legal bills of the late-artist’s estate, he put up 19 paintings and sculpture as collateral for a $5 million loan from Bank of America to help pay those bills, according to court documents filed this month.

Art scholars and Indiana’s friends condemned the move when they learned of it Thursday, assailing the estate for risking the loss of key pieces of art that define Indiana’s life and career.

Robert Indiana’s painting, “Afghanistan,” on display 2002, was done in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is among the artworks serving as collateral for a $5 million loan to cover his estate’s legal fees. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

“Nothing less than a tragedy,” John Wilmerding, a longtime friend to Indiana and a leading American art scholar, said in an email. “If these essential works were somehow given up, the core of the estate would be lost, and would greatly diminish the prospect of saving and opening (Indiana’s former) house some day as an Indiana museum. Irresponsible folly at its most blatant.”

Among the artworks that Rockland attorney James Brannan used to secure the loan are “Mother and Father,” a diptych that Indiana made about his parents in 1965, “The Electric Eat,” an illuminated sculpture from 1964, and the painting “Afghanistan,” which he made in 2001 in response to 9/11. Also included were several “LOVE” paintings and sculpture. “LOVE,” with a titled “O,” was Indiana’s signature work.

As personal representative for the Indiana estate, Brannan signed the paperwork for the loan on Sept. 25, one day after he and his legal counsel agreed they would not sell any artwork without the consent of the Star of Hope Foundation, the nonprofit that Indiana established to protect his legacy by operating the Star of Hope Lodge, his longtime home on Vinalhaven, as a museum. Indiana died at age 89 at his home on the island in May 2018, after he was sued by his longtime art dealer, the Morgan Art Foundation, for copyright infringement related to alleged art fraud. The initial civil case, filed in federal court in New York, has spawned four additional legal cases involving his estate.

A settlement in the primary case is pending.

Brannan’s attorney, Sigmund D. Schutz of the Portland firm PretiFlaherty, said the estate had enough cash on hand to settle current legal expenses. If the parties involved agree to settlement terms, the money secured by the loan won’t be necessary and the loan with Bank of America will be repaid. “If things go well and turn out well, no further art will be sold, Bank of America will be paid off and away we go,” he said. “If the Morgan settlement is not consummated, that will unleash a great deal of additional litigation and expenses in New York.” (Disclosure: Schutz also represents the Press Herald in First Amendment matters.)

Through mid-October, the estate had incurred $7.2 million in legal fees, and Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey has petitioned the Knox County Probate Court to review Brannan’s compensation. According to court documents, Brannan has billed the estate $1.45 million and been paid $750,000. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Rockland.

Schutz said the Star of Hope Foundation suggested that Brannan seek a loan to pay for legal expenses. With the sale of artwork off the table, a loan was the best option, he said. “This issue of borrowing money instead of selling art was at the request of the Star of Hope,” Schutz said. “This is an asset-rich but cash-poor estate, with most value of the estate tied to the value of the art collection.”

The details of the loan are included in recently filed court documents in Rockland. The Star of Hope Foundation filed a petition for supervised administration of Brannan on Dec. 3, asking the court to review his actions. Nathaniel S. Putnam, counsel for the Star of Hope Foundation from Eaton Peabody in Portland, declined to comment on the loan or the petition. In the petition to the court, Putnam wrote that the Star of Hope was “without knowledge or consent” that Brannan used 19 pieces of art as collateral for the loan.

Schutz said the estate would respond to the petition soon – perhaps as soon as Friday. He said the estate is not opposed to the petition, but does not think it is necessary.

Brannan has faced criticism for selling work from Indiana’s private collection. Two years ago, he sold paintings by Ed Ruscha and Ellsworth Kelly for a total of $5 million to pay legal fees, and he was about to auction an Indiana sculpture when the Maine attorney general intervened in September, seeking supervisor authority to present him from selling more work.

The parties signed an agreement on Sept. 24 that would prevent Brannan from selling artwork without the consent of the Star of Hope or the court. On Sept. 25, he signed the loan documents, according to Putnam’s petition.

Kathleen Rogers, Indiana’s former publicist who lives in Ellsworth, was shocked to learn that Brannan used Indiana’s art as collateral for the loan.

“From the beginning, selling the Kelly and Ruscha paintings to pay for his own legal defense, it became clear that Mr. Brannan’s legal hubris is of far more concern to him than Bob’s legacy, and that he possessed little knowledge of, or appreciation for, Bob’s oeuvre,” she said. “Mr. Brannan explained to me at the time that he had made a promise to Bob that he would never sell any of Bob’s work from the collection. To put up ‘Mother and Father’ as collateral for a bank loan is an appalling affront, not only to Bob’s legacy, but to his humanity. These two paintings are arguably the most important in the collection, the most personally important to Bob during his lifetime, and they are now in jeopardy. Double jeopardy. It’s indefensible, as is Mr. Brannan. He should have stepped down long ago.”

Brannan did not return a message seeking comment.

Michael McKenzie, who is accused of art fraud in the Morgan suit and is involved in a separate legal matter involving Brannan, was more succinct. “Literally spitting on a judicial order,” he wrote in an email. “Brannan should be in prison. He has willfully and continuously worked against the legacy Bob defined and now has made it almost impossible for the Star of Hope to continue Bob’s dream of a museum.”

In an email, Morgan attorney Luke Nikas said the Morgan Art Foundation will continue to promote and protect Indiana’s legacy, as it has done for 30 years. “That’s what Robert Indiana deserves, and we hope the outcome of the Maine probate proceedings achieves these important goals,” he wrote.

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