The artist Robert Indiana died over the weekend at the age of 89 just days after a federal lawsuit was filed against a New York art publisher and Indiana’s caretaker on Vinalhaven island in Maine. The lawsuit pits the Morgan Art Foundation, Indiana’s recognized entity, and Simon Salama-Caro against his caretaker, Jamie Thomas, and Michael McKenzie and his American Image Art.
The complaint (above) makes fascinating reading in its own right for the way it summarizes Indiana’s career and frustrations born out of excessive fame. It also chronicles the way Salama-Caro charted a course back from obscurity in the late 1990s. Indeed, most of the casts of Indiana’s “Love” sculpture that have achieved multi-million dollar prices in recent years are from this period in the late 1990s.
The revival of Indiana’s fortunes culminated in the 2013 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American art. Since that time, Salama-Caro has been fighting against the influence of McKenzie and Thomas who, he claims, have been creating works to generate cash. The complaint estimates that $30m was generated from the sale of these works.
There conflict was so great that the advisor filmed the artist pleading for help:
In 2014, Mr. Salama-Caro’s son, Marc, surreptitiously filmed Mr. Indiana during a rare visit to his home and asked the artist about Mr. McKenzie and the proliferation of new works carrying his name.
“Help me,” Mr. Indiana says on the video clip. “How does one restrain Michael? He’s beyond me. He’s mischievous.”
Mr. McKenzie said Mr. Indiana was just making the point that Mr. McKenzie is always bombarding him with new ideas.
Considering the timing of the lawsuit and the content of the complaint chronicling a decade of conflict with McKenzie, whom Salama-Caro claims was keen to announce on more than one occasion that he despised Indiana, it would seem that a struggle for the control of Indiana’s legacy has begun.
Before Robert Indiana’s Death, a Lawsuit Accused Two Men of Tainting His Legacy (The New York Times)