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Untangling pop artist Robert Indiana's estate may take years

Last Updated Sep 12, 2018 at 4:00 pm EST

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, artist Robert Indiana, known for his LOVE artwork, poses in front of that painting at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. A lawsuit accusing several people of taking advantage of Indiana before his death must be sorted out before the estate can proceed with plans for a museum showing his artwork. On Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, attorneys for the pop artist questioned those close to Indiana about his assets, now valued at $60 million. (AP Photo/Lauren Casselberry, File)

ROCKLAND, Maine – Pop artist Robert Indiana’s had a simple wish: He wanted to transform his island home into a museum to preserve and show his art collection to the public.

The reality is far more complicated.

On Wednesday, attorneys gathered in Knox County Probate Court and questioned people close to Indiana about the pop artist’s $60 million assets, including his famous “LOVE” series.

But the process of sorting out those assets and getting the museum started will likely be delayed for at least two years because of a lawsuit alleging Indiana’s caretaker and an art publisher took advantage of him and produced forgeries, accusations the pair denies. It was filed by the company that owns the copyright to several of his most famous works.

“I don’t see us beginning this process until the litigation is over,” said James Brannan, attorney for the estate.

The reclusive artist died at age 89 on May 19 at his home on Vinalhaven Island, 15 miles (24 kilometres) off the coast of Rockland.

On Wednesday, Jamie Thomas, Indiana’s caregiver and power of attorney, acknowledged receiving more than 100 pieces of Indiana’s artwork as gifts over the years. Testimony suggested he also was paid about $490,000 and withdrew $615,000 at Indiana’s request from bank accounts in the final two years of the artist’s life.

Under Indiana’s will, Thomas would run the foundation and museum.

Indiana created a lifetime of art but he’s best known for LOVE, created in the 1960s and instantly recognizable around the world. Couples have their photo taken at the LOVE sculpture in Philadelphia, and the iconic image was used on postage stamps.

He was a popular artist in New York when he created LOVE but retreated in 1978 to Maine. His desire for solitude was nearly as legendary as his art.

“Even within the realm of artists, he’s a quirky guy,” Michael McKenzie, the art dealer mentioned in the lawsuit, told attorneys. McKenzie worked with Indiana over the years to print and fabricate Indiana’s artwork.

As time went on, friends became increasingly worried about him.

The lawsuit raised additional questions, and an FBI agent investigating possible art fraud requested an autopsy. The state medical examiner’s office said his death was not suspicious though the official cause of death is “undetermined.”

Brannan said it’s disappointing that it’s going to take so much time to fulfil the request Indiana made in his will. The cost of transforming his home into a museum and displaying his artwork will be about $10 million.