New York judge dismisses lawsuit against Maine ‘LOVE’ artist

Security guard Adam Howlett strolls past Robert Indiana's &quotLove" sculpture at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland in March 2009.
File photo by Bridget Brown | BDN
Security guard Adam Howlett strolls past Robert Indiana's "Love" sculpture at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland in March 2009.
Posted Jan. 24, 2013, at 4:01 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 24, 2013, at 6:13 p.m.
Robert Indiana in 2002
Stephen M. Katz | BDN
Robert Indiana in 2002 Buy Photo

ROCKLAND, Maine — A federal judge in New York City has thrown out a lawsuit filed last year by a Monaco man who claimed his $1.5 million worth of artwork was made nearly worthless by actions of world-renowned artist Robert Indiana of Vinalhaven.

Judge Katherine Forrest issued a strongly-worded decision Jan. 17 — in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York — that the lawsuit by Joao Tovar against Indiana be dismissed and the case terminated.

Forrest stated that Indiana, “a great artist” had given a “lesser artist” John Gilbert a license to make art based on Indiana’s most well known work — the iconic LOVE sculpture in which the O is positioned at an angle. The lesser artist, however, made several pieces of poor art that was not covered by the agreement reached between the two, the judge stated in her ruling.

“In 2009, the great artist got wind of the lesser artist’s creation of the poor art and made public that he never licensed the poor art’s creation and had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Accordingly the poor art, including any pieces still held by the dealer, plummeted in value,” the judge ruled in her dismissal order.

Tovar had maintained that he had purchased several sculptures allegedly from Gilbert beginning in May 2008. The sculptures were called “PREM” sculptures. PREM is the English translation for the Hindi word for love.

About a year after the purchases, Indiana issued a letter renouncing his alleged authorship of the PREM sculptures.

Tovar claims in the lawsuit that his 10 PREM sculptures were valued in May or June 2009 at $1.5 million. But after the renouncing letter by Indiana, Tovar argued that the sculptures were “worth little more than the materials from which they were made.”

Tovar stated he had his PREM sculptures slated for sale in Christie’s auction houses in Milan, Italy, and in Dubai when the renouncement letter was issued.

The lawsuit was filed in May in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland before it was moved to the U.S. District Court in New York after jurisdictional issues were resolved.

Indiana was represented by attorneys Melissa Hewey of Portland, Gary Sesser of New York City, George Royle of Portland, and Judith Wallace of New York City.

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