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The Isolation Artist: Scandal, Deception, and the Last Days of Robert Indiana

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When reclusive, millionaire artist Robert Indiana died in 2018, he left behind dark rumors and scandal, as well as an estate embroiled in lawsuits and facing accusations of fraud. Here, for the first time, are all the pieces to the bizarre true story of the artist’s final days, the aftermath, the deceptive world that surrounded him, and the inner workings of art as very bi When reclusive, millionaire artist Robert Indiana died in 2018, he left behind dark rumors and scandal, as well as an estate embroiled in lawsuits and facing accusations of fraud. Here, for the first time, are all the pieces to the bizarre true story of the artist’s final days, the aftermath, the deceptive world that surrounded him, and the inner workings of art as very big business. “I’m not a business man, I'm an artist,” Robert Indiana said, refusing to copyright his iconic LOVE sculpture in 1965. An odd and tortured soul, an artist who wanted both fame and solitude, Indiana surrounded himself with people to manage his life and work. Yet, he frequently changed his mind and often fired or belittled those who worked with him. By 2008, when Indiana created the sculpture HOPE―or did he?―the artist had signed away his work for others to exploit, creating doubt about whether he had even seen artwork sold for very high prices under his name. At the time of his death, Indiana left an estate worth millions―and unsettling suspicions. There were allegations of fraudulent artwork, of elder abuse, of caregivers who subjected him to horrendous living conditions. There were questions about the inconclusive autopsy and rumors that his final will had been signed under coercion. There were strong suspicions about the freeloaders who’d attached themselves to the famous artist. “In the final hours of his life,” the author writes, “Robert Indiana was without the grace of a better angel, as the people closest to him covered their tracks and plotted their defenses.” With unparalleled access to the key players in Indiana’s life, author Bob Keyes tells a fast-paced and riveting story that provides a rare inside look into the life of an artist as well as the often, too often, unscrupulous world of high-end art. The reader is taken inside the world of art dealers, law firms, and an array of local characters in Maine whose lives intersected with the internationally revered artist living in an old Odd Fellows Hall on Vinalhaven Island. The Isolation Artist is for anyone interested in contemporary art, business, and the perilous intersection between them. It an extraordinary window into the life and death of a singular and contradictory American artist―one whose work touched countless millions through everything from postage stamps to political campaigns to museums―even as he lived and died in isolation, with a lack of love, the loss of hope, and lots and lots of money.


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When reclusive, millionaire artist Robert Indiana died in 2018, he left behind dark rumors and scandal, as well as an estate embroiled in lawsuits and facing accusations of fraud. Here, for the first time, are all the pieces to the bizarre true story of the artist’s final days, the aftermath, the deceptive world that surrounded him, and the inner workings of art as very bi When reclusive, millionaire artist Robert Indiana died in 2018, he left behind dark rumors and scandal, as well as an estate embroiled in lawsuits and facing accusations of fraud. Here, for the first time, are all the pieces to the bizarre true story of the artist’s final days, the aftermath, the deceptive world that surrounded him, and the inner workings of art as very big business. “I’m not a business man, I'm an artist,” Robert Indiana said, refusing to copyright his iconic LOVE sculpture in 1965. An odd and tortured soul, an artist who wanted both fame and solitude, Indiana surrounded himself with people to manage his life and work. Yet, he frequently changed his mind and often fired or belittled those who worked with him. By 2008, when Indiana created the sculpture HOPE―or did he?―the artist had signed away his work for others to exploit, creating doubt about whether he had even seen artwork sold for very high prices under his name. At the time of his death, Indiana left an estate worth millions―and unsettling suspicions. There were allegations of fraudulent artwork, of elder abuse, of caregivers who subjected him to horrendous living conditions. There were questions about the inconclusive autopsy and rumors that his final will had been signed under coercion. There were strong suspicions about the freeloaders who’d attached themselves to the famous artist. “In the final hours of his life,” the author writes, “Robert Indiana was without the grace of a better angel, as the people closest to him covered their tracks and plotted their defenses.” With unparalleled access to the key players in Indiana’s life, author Bob Keyes tells a fast-paced and riveting story that provides a rare inside look into the life of an artist as well as the often, too often, unscrupulous world of high-end art. The reader is taken inside the world of art dealers, law firms, and an array of local characters in Maine whose lives intersected with the internationally revered artist living in an old Odd Fellows Hall on Vinalhaven Island. The Isolation Artist is for anyone interested in contemporary art, business, and the perilous intersection between them. It an extraordinary window into the life and death of a singular and contradictory American artist―one whose work touched countless millions through everything from postage stamps to political campaigns to museums―even as he lived and died in isolation, with a lack of love, the loss of hope, and lots and lots of money.

54 review for The Isolation Artist: Scandal, Deception, and the Last Days of Robert Indiana

  1. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    Robert Indiana was a successful artist, but he did not have a successful life. Upon his mysterious death in May 2018 (the actual day is disputed) the vultures who had taken his art and his personal life while he was alive made their final, lucrative moves. How is it that a lifelong Christian Scientist died with a number of drugs in his system, and that without the intervention of the FBI this would never have been known? How can art dealer create and sell HOPE and WINE works under the Indiana na Robert Indiana was a successful artist, but he did not have a successful life. Upon his mysterious death in May 2018 (the actual day is disputed) the vultures who had taken his art and his personal life while he was alive made their final, lucrative moves. How is it that a lifelong Christian Scientist died with a number of drugs in his system, and that without the intervention of the FBI this would never have been known? How can art dealer create and sell HOPE and WINE works under the Indiana name? Why did his caretaker (with a most likely coerced POA agreement) withdraw almost $700K from Indiana’s account – mostly in $100 bills? Why is it that his closest friends were shut out of his life in his final years? Not all these questions are answerable, but there is background for you to draw your conclusions. It would seem some crimes were committed but the only person jailed was a victim of Indiana. One lawyer had to re-imburse the estate several millions of dollars and may still be under investigation for excessive billing. Was the rest of this plundering legal? With no heirs to pursue re-dress, perhaps criminal responsibility will (or did) just go away. This is not an easy book to read. It is not chronological. The list of characters was absolutely necessary; an index would have helped. Some topics are distributed throughout the book, but the basics aren’t stated up front. For instance, knowing Indiana’s philosophy on copyright at the beginning would have helped understand where he was coming from in his dealings with “agents”. Another example is that the purpose of The Star of Hope Foundation, while not critical to the story (as is copyright), evolves each time it comes up. This had to be a difficult book to write. The sprawling story surely required careful weighing of legal terms, presumed relationships and what to leave in and leave out. Fans of Robert Indiana or pop art (although Indiana said he was a sign painter and not a pop artist) will want to read this. Those with interest in legal issues and/or the marketing of art will find it interesting.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Curry

    I’m inclined to feel that the most memorable thing about Bob Keyes’ THE ISOLATION ARTIST: SCANDAL, DECEPTION AND THE LAST DAYS OF ROBERT INDIANA may be the epigraph from Kurt Vonnegut’s GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER that precedes Keyes’ text: “A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.” Nowhere does Keyes’ journalistic prose have anything like that punch. I can tolerate slim verbal interest for I’m inclined to feel that the most memorable thing about Bob Keyes’ THE ISOLATION ARTIST: SCANDAL, DECEPTION AND THE LAST DAYS OF ROBERT INDIANA may be the epigraph from Kurt Vonnegut’s GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER that precedes Keyes’ text: “A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.” Nowhere does Keyes’ journalistic prose have anything like that punch. I can tolerate slim verbal interest for a few columns in a newspaper or in a brief article in a magazine, but it becomes wearying over the length of a book. In addition, Keyes has considerable difficulty organizing his materials, so that the book is more muddled and repetitive than necessary, granted that the details of Indiana’s life and work are and will probably remain inconclusive. As this book lands on the shelves and gets read, reviewed and discussed, I wouldn’t want to be an art dealer with a significant investment in yet unsold works by Indiana.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I found this look at the legal battles involving the Indiana estate both tragic and fascinating. Keyes has extensively researched this case and, as a nationally recognized arts writer, he brings his expertise on the art world in general and Indiana in particular into his research. We will probably never have the answers to all the mysteries surrounding Indiana’s death, yet Indiana’s art lives on. I am hoping that someday the Star of Hope Lodge will become a part of the Farnsworth Museum in the s I found this look at the legal battles involving the Indiana estate both tragic and fascinating. Keyes has extensively researched this case and, as a nationally recognized arts writer, he brings his expertise on the art world in general and Indiana in particular into his research. We will probably never have the answers to all the mysteries surrounding Indiana’s death, yet Indiana’s art lives on. I am hoping that someday the Star of Hope Lodge will become a part of the Farnsworth Museum in the same way that the Olson House has. Unfortunately, however, there seem to be more people scheming to take money and art from the estate than there are people who wish to secure Indiana’s legacy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anne Tarbox

    It must have been a difficult chore for Bob Keyes to keep track of all the sordid people surrounding Robert Indiana in the last few years of his life. He isolated himself much of his life but nothing to compare to the locked doors which kept out everyone but those few who took control of his art, his money and his health in the end. The fact that Bob met and interviewed Indiana in earlier days gives balance to the story of the sad end to the artists life.

  5. 4 out of 5

    R.J. Heller

    Artists see the world differently. They eat, breathe and create on their own terms. In return, art admirers — even the novice “want to be” critics — still gaze upon an artist’s life seeking answers to questions: What was it that motivated them? What places inspired their work? What were their passions, demons, the obsessions that propelled them into notoriety or obscurity? For those seeking answers about the iconic artist Robert Indiana, 1928-2018, one needs to look no further than Bob Keyes’ exc Artists see the world differently. They eat, breathe and create on their own terms. In return, art admirers — even the novice “want to be” critics — still gaze upon an artist’s life seeking answers to questions: What was it that motivated them? What places inspired their work? What were their passions, demons, the obsessions that propelled them into notoriety or obscurity? For those seeking answers about the iconic artist Robert Indiana, 1928-2018, one needs to look no further than Bob Keyes’ exceptional debut, The Isolation Artist: Scandal, Deception, and the Last Days of Robert Indiana. An award-winning journalist for over 40 years, Keyes is a nationally recognized arts writer since 2002 with the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. He grew up in Massachusetts and lives with his family in Maine. There is a reflexive pause usually followed by a question when the artist named Robert Indiana is mentioned. Who? The answer then goes something like this: You know, the LOVE sculpture, the O slanted next to the L on top of the letters V and E. It is, to be frank, an embarrassing moment when one realizes they always knew the art but not the artist. “Islands have a way of keeping their secrets and protecting their own.” — Bob Keyes Islands are mysterious. Robert Indiana is in many ways an enigma, having lived on islands from his early days as an artist in Brooklyn, creating the pop art image LOVE in 1964; then, in 1978, moving into the largest building on Maine’s Vinalhaven island to live and work. It is here, over many years, that he slowly subtracts himself from the equation of life. In his last 10 years, Indiana gradually becomes a recluse, allowing only a few business people and friends into his “contained” world inside a very big building. “Robert Indiana fled New York because he’d grown to feel betrayed and maligned in the city. On Vinalhaven, he might have hidden out, or maybe even faded away. But instead, he chose as his home the grandest structure on the island, the elegant 12-room Star of Hope Lodge, a former Odd Fellows Hall that towered over the harbor, visible to visitors as they arrived by public ferry.” In 2008, a party on Vinalhaven — celebrating Indiana’s 80th birthday — ironically mirrors a resurgence of Indiana’s career with his sculpture HOPE. It is also the year the nation elects Barack Obama president, and Indiana’s HOPE image is used as the campaign’s symbol. The years from 2008 to 2018 are where Keyes begins the task of piecing together both the world of an artist and the fast-paced, often brutal machinations of art as pure business. Lawyers, art dealers, art agents, warped ethics and questionable loyalties amidst a backdrop of deceit, betrayal and potential fraud of a life’s work now valued in the millions are the breadth of Keyes’ investigative look inside the life of an acerbic, egotistical artist “who avoided conflict, yet constantly created it by making things difficult.” Then there is the artist’s suspicious death. Indiana was a Christian Scientist and believed in no medical interventions, yet, upon an autopsy at the request of the FBI who was looking into forged artwork, multiple palliative care drugs were found in his system. Lastly, the date of his actual death remains in question. Was it May 19 — as local police and the medical examiner maintain? Or was it May 18, the day his longtime art dealer filed a lawsuit against him? Indiana’s cause of death remains undetermined. Keyes knew Indiana personally, logging over a half dozen interviews, beginning in 2002 up until 2016 when they last spoke. Sifting through archives of documents, court records, medical records and other interviews, Keyes lifts the curtain on many questions and provides details about those closest to the artist prior to his death — both friends and other savory characters — in what he calls “a tragedy of Shakespearean mechanizations.” Providing a chronology of events, Keyes is precise in his belief that those “actors” within Indiana’s inner circle, the island itself and the business of art all conspired in an epic play of rancor, greed and chaos. In retrospect, one could say that the Star of Hope is Indiana’s last work of art. After his death, inside his home was a treasure trove of work, artifacts from a life, even stacks upon stacks of guarded days in newsprint. Indiana kept everything he read, especially critics’ reviews, news articles and letters about himself. Indiana kept everything he touched. “I am an artist, not a business man” — Robert Indiana Only a seasoned journalist could have written this story, and Keyes clearly hits the mark. The book is about a news story within a much larger story. It is, in a sense, a snapshot biography meticulously revealed through the last days of an artist’s life and hopefully a work that will help clarify this artist’s legacy — one that contributed to the art world with bright shiny moments of creative genius, amidst the plight of abuse, hidden agendas and disloyalty in the end by those closest to him.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Hagan

    Bob Keyes does an excellent job in exploring the last years of artist Robert Indiana's life, a mercurial artist, who lived on the island of Vinalhaven, shunned the press and the public, made bad business deals, and let his historic Odd Fellows building, the Star of Hope, practically fall down around him. This is a well-researched and heart-wrenching story, particularly for those of us who knew and loved Indiana. He was an art visionary, as well as a kind, generous man, who made the infamous "Lov Bob Keyes does an excellent job in exploring the last years of artist Robert Indiana's life, a mercurial artist, who lived on the island of Vinalhaven, shunned the press and the public, made bad business deals, and let his historic Odd Fellows building, the Star of Hope, practically fall down around him. This is a well-researched and heart-wrenching story, particularly for those of us who knew and loved Indiana. He was an art visionary, as well as a kind, generous man, who made the infamous "Love" sculpture, but received very limited money for it and the various ways it was copied and marketed. Ironically, Indiana always seemed to be in search of love himself. Keyes more or less depicts the last years, of Indiana's life as the vultures swooping in, plucking a good deal of Indiana's art, taking rights to iconic pieces, and money. I gave this book a four out of five only because I did feel it was a little dry in spots...recitation of various motions, deals, transcripts, etc., without some of the life, personality, and history of the artist himself. Even so, it is a shocking tale of what can happen to an aging artist who does not have an agent or management that will oversee and protect them when they are no longer can. \

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brendyn

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bettina Stammen

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ashas

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Massaro

  11. 5 out of 5

    Beth

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lora Urbanelli

  13. 5 out of 5

    Will Meyerhofer

  14. 5 out of 5

    Colleen O'Neill Conlan

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anne

  16. 4 out of 5

    Perry Teicher

  17. 4 out of 5

    Yolanda van der Mescht

  18. 5 out of 5

    MaryAustin Dowd

  19. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  21. 4 out of 5

    Judy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kim

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Hedges

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bob Keyes

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Mitev

  26. 4 out of 5

    Doris

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cameron goodreads Adams

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bexa

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carly

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alex Greenberger

  31. 5 out of 5

    Kim Clark

  32. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne Julian

  33. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Mingarelli

  34. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Blythe

  35. 5 out of 5

    Terry Zimmer

  36. 4 out of 5

    Mabaenen

  37. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

  38. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

  39. 5 out of 5

    Arnie Schechter

  40. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey Lincoln

  41. 4 out of 5

    Christine

  42. 5 out of 5

    Teri

  43. 5 out of 5

    Julia

  44. 5 out of 5

    Karen J.

  45. 5 out of 5

    Vic

  46. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  47. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Farrar

  48. 4 out of 5

    Betty Panick

  49. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  50. 4 out of 5

    Elnor Finewood

  51. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  52. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Corbett

  53. 4 out of 5

    Pam Foster

  54. 4 out of 5

    Caitie

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