LOVE Artist’s Estate in Litigation
“The man who took care of Robert Indiana in the last years of his life, told a probate court hearing Wednesday that he was paid roughly $250,000 a year to tend to the aging artist, whose estate and legacy are now the subject of acrimony and lawsuits.”
Under questioning by a lawyer representing the estate, caretaker, Jamie L. Thomas said he’d been earning $1,000 a week in 2013, when he started taking care of artist Robert Indiana, who lived alone on a Maine island, until his death in May at 89.
The New York Times’ recent article entitled “Robert Indiana’s Estate: Generosity, Acrimony and Questions” reported that by 2016, Thomas said the artist had raised his salary to $5,000 a week for round-the-clock work that included bringing him meals, taking care of his dog and helping him to bed. He was also granted Indiana’s power of attorney.
Thomas said Indiana was a generous employer and that the artist had given him at least 118 pieces of art since 2010.
At the hearing, Thomas said that over the last two years he’d withdrawn $615,000 from Indiana’s accounts at his request. He didn’t say for what Indiana used the cash, but that the artist gave him $35,000 to buy a car.
James Brannan, the lawyer who’s the executor of Indiana’s estate, said he was surprised by the large cash withdrawals. Brannan said when he visited the artist’s home soon after his death, Thomas’s wife gave him a gym bag filled with $189,000 in cash. “This is yours,” she told him, “It belongs to the estate.”
Brannan isn’t certain if that cash is part of the $615,000 that was withdrawn.
John Frumer, the lawyer representing Thomas, said the hearing paints an incomplete picture.
“There’s much more to the story than it appears,” Frumer said. “Because it’s a limited proceeding, not all of the facts came out, and they will in time.”
Brannan asked the Knox County Probate Court to help clear up multiple questions that have swirled about Indiana’s finances in recent months. He said he wanted to clarify whether any money is owed to the estate, get an inventory of all the art works Indiana left behind and to address accusations that are contained in a separate lawsuit claiming Thomas and a New York art publisher made unauthorized works under Indiana’s name in recent years. That action was filed a day before Indiana’s death, by Morgan Art Foundation, an international dealer that claims the rights to many of the artist’s works, including the famous LOVE image. The suit claims that publisher Michael McKenzie and Thomas intentionally isolated Indiana from friends and business associates to sell inauthentic artwork attributed to him.
McKenzie said he had returned to the estate all the Indiana artworks that might belong to it. However, Brannan has said that he wants a full accounting of whether the Morgan company owes the estate money for royalty payments due on Indiana items it sold.
Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, with the letters stacked two-on-two and the tilted “O,” became one of the best-known images of the 20th century. The sculpture brought Indiana fame, but he left the New York art scene behind in 1978. He lived on the Maine island of Vinalhaven, an hour by ferry from the mainland, where the reclusive artist lived and worked, surrounded by a crew of studio assistants and workers.
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