The foundation that will carry forward the legacy of the late artist Robert Indiana filed an emergency motion with the Knox County Probate Court this week to try to stop Indiana’s estate from selling one of his “LOVE” paintings at auction in early October or any of his work going forward, without oversight, and the estate has agreed to comply.

The Star of Hope Foundation, which Indiana created and partially funded while he was alive, asked the probate court to grant it or the court itself, but not the estate, final say over the sale of artwork or other tangible items from the estate’s collection. The estate has agreed to the condition, said Sigmund D. Schutz, attorney for the estate’s personal representative, James Brannan of Rockland.

The estate possesses hundreds of piece of Indiana’s art, as well as his archive, all under lock and key in a Rockland-area storage facility. The restriction could limit the ability of the estate to pay for ongoing legal fights in New York with the Morgan Art Foundation, the artist’s longtime representative and owner of rights to much of his work, including his iconic and universal “LOVE” image. The estate also is embroiled in other litigation involving another Indiana art partner, Michael McKenzie.

Earlier this week, the Star of Hope Foundation and Morgan signed a legal agreement aimed at ending much of the costly New York litigation. The Star of Hope Foundation, which is not involved in the legal matter in New York, is the sole beneficiary of Indiana’s estate, which was estimated to be worth as much as $90 million soon after Indiana died. Some experts believe its value could be considerably less now because the ongoing court fights have damaged his reputation.

The Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture in John F. Kennedy Plaza, commonly known as Love Park, in Philadelphia in 2018. Associated Press/Matt Rourke

Indiana died at 89 in May 2018 at his home on Vinalhaven, a former Odd Fellows Lodge known as the Star of Hope. The day before Indiana died, he was named in the Morgan lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, alleging that he breached his longstanding agreements with Morgan by permitting unauthorized artwork to be made under his name. When Indiana died, the estate became a defendant in the suit, which has spawned related claims and counterclaims in New York and Maine courts.

Schutz, the attorney for the estate, said the estate agreed to the Knox County Probate petition when it was filed on Tuesday. Nathanial S. Putnam, a Bangor-based attorney for the foundation, filed an original petition seeking authority over art sales on Tuesday and filed an amended petition including the estate’s consent on Thursday. He said he was awaiting consent from the Maine Attorney General’s Office, and then approval from the judge.

At immediate issue is an upcoming auction at Christie’s of “LOVE WALL,” a four-canvas painting from 1981. Its estimated auction value is between $600,000 and $800,000. In a statement Friday afternoon, Brannan bristled at the suggestion that he was trying to sell art without the knowledge or consent of the foundation.

“Any suggestion that the estate had plans to sell artwork without the knowledge of the Star of Hope, Inc. is simply false. In January, the estate informed the Star of Hope’s chairman and its outside counsel that the estate planned to sell works at auction, and sent them a list of the works,” Brannan said in a written statement. “The LOVE Wall painting was on that list. The Star of Hope knew all about it, and they did not object.”

The status of the artwork in the Christie’s auction was uncertain Friday afternoon. “LOVE WALL” was not listed on Christie’s website previewing the Oct. 7 sale, though two other Indiana artworks were. Brannan would not comment beyond his written statement.

Brannan has faced criticism for his handling of the case from the outset, most recently for mounting legal bills, which were estimated at $6 million through July. A year ago, Morgan attorney Luke Nikas asked Maine Attorney General Aaron M. Frey to intervene because he said Brannan acted recklessly in turning down a settlement worth $10 million. Early on, Brannan was criticized for selling paintings from Indiana’s private collection, including one by his close friend Ellsworth Kelly, to raise money to pay legal bills and related costs. According to the Knox County petition, Brannan sold two Indiana artworks in March 2020 for $2.1 million without consulting the Star of Hope. It was not clear Friday what those works were.

While Brannan has agreed to the oversight of sales by the Star of Hope Foundation in the Knox County matter, he and his attorneys are challenging the Morgan-Star of Hope Foundation agreement that was filed Monday in New York. In a letter to the New York court, Brannan’s New York attorney, Edward P. Boyle, said the estate was “completely blindsided” by the deal and that Brannan knew nothing about it until informed by a reporter from the Portland Press Herald. The estate did not receive a copy of the agreement until late Monday night. Boyle accused Nikas of “a surprise attack” and manipulating media coverage with his timing.

In his letter, Boyle said Morgan and the Star of Hope Foundation have frozen the estate out of settlement talks since April, when communications between the parties “went radio silent.” He said the timing of the agreement between Morgan and the Star of Hope Foundation was meant to thwart Brannan’s deposition of key members of Morgan’s team, including Simon Salama-Caro, a principal consultant to Morgan, and his son Paul Salama-Caro. Also scheduled to be deposed are Jamie Thomas, Indiana’s assistant and caretaker who is accused of isolating the artist and conspiring with McKenzie on fraudulent artwork; Melissa Hamilton, another longtime studio assistant; and Philipe Grossglauser, an international businessperson associated with Morgan.

The agreement between Morgan and the Star of Hope Foundation was signed Sept. 18 and remains under seal at Morgan’s request. In a motion announcing the agreement, Nikas asked the judge to stay the discovery process and dismiss claims and counter-claims between Morgan and the estate, arguing that with the agreement in place and the foundation being the sole beneficiary of Indiana’s estate, the litigation is moot.

Boyle rejected the motion to dismiss as meritless and said Brannan’s work as Indiana’s personal representative has led to the recovery of more than 100 Indiana artworks valued at more than $10 million, exceeding the legal bills. He also has distributed more than $5 million to the Star of Hope Foundation.

Boyle also said Brannan would consider the agreement, and asked for time to respond and to reschedule depositions.

“Mr. Brannan takes his obligations as personal representative very seriously. Despite the Morgan parties’ attempts to discredit and humiliate him, he will not sink to their level,” Boyle wrote to the judge, adding that Brannan would review the agreement and determine if it is in Indiana’s best interest. “Mr. Brannan will then decide whether the estate will agree to resolve its litigation with the Morgan parties.”

Schutz, the attorney for the estate, also represents the Portland Press Herald in First Amendment cases.

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