Settlement Reached in Multimillion-Dollar Legal Battle Over Robert Indiana Estate

A three-year-long, multimillion-dollar legal battle between the estate of Robert Indiana and the Morgan Art Foundation, which represented Indiana during his lifetime and owns the copyright to much of his work, including his famed “LOVE” symbol, has culminated in a settlement. Various suits and countersuits that were pending in court were also dismissed. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

According to a filing in New York District Court last week, the remaining suits between the Morgan Art Foundation and the executor of his estate, James W. Brannan, have all been dismissed, along with ones against the artist’s longtime caretaker, Jamie Thomas. The settlement will allow for the estate and the Morgan Art Foundation to jointly represent the artist’s work and grow his market. The terms of the settlement were not revealed, though all the parties agreed to bear their own legal costs.

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In the days before the artist’s death in May 2018, the Morgan Art Foundation filed a claim against Thomas and others that alleged they had sought “to isolate Indiana” and “reap the profits from selling unauthorized and forged works.” In the time since, numerous countersuits were filed between the parties. In July 2019, a judge dismissed a number of the countersuits and then in January 2020, a second judge dismissed other suits in the protracted legal battle.

News of a potential settlement first surfaced last fall, with attorneys for both parties filing a letter to the court saying that Brannan and the Morgan Art Foundation “have signed a confidential term sheet setting forth the anticipated terms of a settlement agreement among them,” according to the Art Newspaper.

Both Brannan and the Morgan Art Foundation also have separate suits still pending against Michael McKenzie, the founder of the publishing firm American Image Art, which had a contract with Indiana during his lifetime to produce and sell certain works by the artist. McKenzie is not part of this settlement, and those related suits were not dismissed as part of last week’s court filing. A separate legal battle, brought by the Maine Attorney General, centers around legal fees paid by the estate. The Maine Attorney General claims that the estate overpaid its legal fees by some $4 million and is seeking for the estate’s law firms to return that money to the estate.

Indiana’s will created the Star of Hope Foundation as its sole beneficiary with the purpose of transforming Indiana’s longtime home on a remote island off the coast of Maine into a museum dedicated to the artist. According to the Times, these lawsuits drained funds that would have otherwise gone to the creation of the museum, and the Star of Hope Foundation was involved in helping to secure this settlement.

In a statement, Star of Hope chairman Larry Sterrs said, “We were happy to be part of the conversations that facilitated this agreement. The Star of Hope looks forward to our partnership in the market with Morgan and accelerating work on our mission.”


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