The estate of the late artist Robert Indiana and his principal art patron, the Morgan Art Foundation, have settled their costly legal differences after three years of acrimony and allegations that the other had taken advantage of the artist.

Morgan Art and the Indiana estate’s attorney, James Brannan of Rockland, announced the news in a joint statement Friday morning. The parties would not disclose the terms of the agreement, but have filed paperwork to dismiss the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. A lawsuit involving Morgan Art and Michael McKenzie, who also worked with Indiana, will continue.

Indiana, who is most famous for his “LOVE” motif in the 1960s and “HOPE” much later in life, died at his home on Vinalhaven island off the coast of Rockland at age 89 in May 2018, shortly after his longtime art dealer sued for copyright infringement. His estate has been mired in costly legal battles since. As Indiana’s personal representative, Brannan has drawn the scrutiny of the Maine attorney general, who has filed paperwork in Knox County Probate Court accusing him of breaching his fiduciary duty to Indiana by dragging out the legal affairs, running up his fees and overpaying other law firms he hired to represent the estate in court proceedings in New York and Maine. The attorney general is seeking the return of about $3.7 million of the $10 million the estate has paid to lawyers since Indiana died.

Friday’s announcement also establishes a partnership between Morgan Art and the Star of Hope Foundation, which Indiana established before he died to manage his art and legacy. Indiana moved to the Victorian-era Star of Hope Lodge, a former Odd Fellows Hall on Vinalhaven, in 1978.

“This settlement is an excellent outcome for all involved,” Morgan Art attorney Luke Nikas said in a statement. “Morgan Art Foundation is thrilled to partner with Indiana’s nonprofit foundation, the Star of Hope, in continuing its decades-long effort to promote and preserve the work of Robert Indiana.”

Brannan said, also in a statement, “The future is bright for the market and legacy of Robert Indiana, and the estate is pleased to have helped create this success.”


Larry Sterrs, the Star of Hope chairman, said the foundation is eager to accelerate its work now that the legal issues are settled. The foundation has begun repairing the Star of Hope, and recently hosted an exhibition of artwork made by students from the island. In an interview, Sterrs said the foundation would announce a revised mission statement and reveal a new logo soon, and it has begun transferring ownership of Indiana’s artwork from the estate to the foundation.

“That process has begun, and it’s another positive step toward the foundation doing what it is supposed to do,” Sterrs said.

Morgan Art and the Star of Hope Foundation reached an agreement to settle their legal dispute in September, setting up the framework for a final settlement. But Brannan refused to sign onto the pact until the spring, drawing the ire of the Maine attorney general. The status of the settlement was unknown and the case still pending until Friday’s announcement and court action to dismiss the case in New York.

Nikas and Brannan both declined to discuss the settlement.

Indiana was born Robert Clark, and changed his name after arriving in New York in the 1950s determined to make his life as an artist. He became a leading figure in the Pop art movement in the 1960s, though he always disdained being referenced as a Pop artist. He called himself an “American painter of signs,” and was known for creating hard-edged images, often with words and numbers, that served as an autobiographical roadmap of his life.

Indiana failed to copyright or trademark “LOVE” in the 1960s, creating decades of financial and other frustrations. He moved to Maine to escape the New York art scene, which he felt underappreciated him. Although he had attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1953, he knew little about Maine and almost nothing about Vinalhaven. He first visited the island with the photographer Eliot Elisofon, who had purchased the Star of Hope and rented Indiana a studio. After Elisofon died, Indiana bought the building from the photographer’s estate and relocated to Maine.


His partnership with Morgan Art began in 1999, when he signed contracts giving the private company the rights to “LOVE” and other works, and began an aggressive campaign to create sculptures in bronze, marble and other materials.

In 2008, Indiana signed a contract with McKenzie and his company, American Image Art, to produce “HOPE,” which debuted as a stainless steel sculpture at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where Barack Obama received his first nomination for president. Indiana’s growing partnership with McKenzie created a conflict with Morgan Art, prompting Nikas to file suit against Indiana, McKenzie and Jamie Thomas, Indiana’s personal caretaker.

After Indiana died, Brannan, who was Indiana’s attorney and estate representative, became a party in the suit. Morgan Art accused McKenzie and Thomas of isolating Indiana from his friends while making and selling unauthorized work under Indiana’s name. Morgan filed a second suit that fall, alleging elder abuse while Indiana was alive and mismanagement of his estate after he died. In response, Brannan filed counterclaims that he said proved Morgan Art and its adviser, Simon Salama-Caro, had underpaid Indiana for years, and accused Morgan of purposefully providing Indiana with incomplete invoices.

Brannan and Thomas also were involved in a lawsuit, which they settled. In addition to the continuing case between Morgan Art and McKenzie, the estate and McKenzie are involved in legal arbitration over McKenzie’s right to continue making and selling “HOPE,” as well as McKenzie’s claims the estate owes him $3.5 million in royalties that McKenzie said he paid Indiana but Indiana didn’t earn. He paid Indiana $10 million over a decade.

McKenzie’s attorney, John Markham of Boston and Waldoboro, had previously expressed dismay that his client wasn’t part of the settlement talks. On Friday, Markham offered hope in a statement.

“Finally the great legacy of Robert Indiana, which Mike McKenzie did so much to enhance over decades, is going be handled by a charity rather than being eaten up by very expensive legal bills. We hope this trend continues,” he wrote in an email.

McKenzie was less diplomatic. He repeated accusations that Indiana had been underpaid by Salama-Caro, and chastised Sterrs for agreeing to an alliance with Morgan Art.

“To say that I’m not happy about all this nonsense would be really putting it mildly,” he said, adding that “I can’t imagine how Bob’s legacy goes forward. …  I don’t really know what to say.”

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