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

by: Bob Keyes (0)

“Reads like a mystery”—PBS News Hour

“You’ll find it hard to put down.” —NPR, “Books We Love”

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.

The Reviews

The author provides a valuable service by providing a great deal of detail about a story that has received much media attention in inadequate bits and bites. Understandably, his reporting has been limited by who was willing to say what, where those responding were both personally involved and often principles in litigation as well. The result is both informative, for what it adds to the mass media reporting, and frustrating for what - also understandably - it does not.At the same time, it’s a rather frustrating “he said/she said” account that does not take sides on many of the key facts that the author reports from the viewpoint of the diverse characters who were directly involved. For example, he reports that a key player in the final scenes of Indiana’s life suggested that the auto-signature machine used to sign Indiana’s art work during his final years might have signed his last will as well. I personally know and respect the individuals who witnessed that will and have no reason to doubt their veracity. The author could have stated a similar conclusion while recording the suspicions of others he interviewed, qualifying their viewpoint by their historical frustrations and their roles in the chaotic unwinding of the artist’s final days.Still, the author accurately captures the reality of an artist universally acknowledged to be both artistically brilliant and personally difficult, both frustrated and self-defeating, and tragically never able to reconcile his hopes for artistic recognition with the critical appreciation he received, no matter how close the two in fact may have been, Indiana’s rejection of an invitation to the Obama White House being a cardinal example.It’s a sad and cautionary story to read, and in the end, perhaps an exemplar of Socrates’ injunction that an unexamined life is not worth living.For whatever reason, despite Robert’s unique insight into the society his art reflected, his own place in the artistic community remained, to him, conflicted and obscure. That failure cast a pall over the last decades of his life, and this book lays bare the personal toll it took on Robert Indiana’s life in its sad, final years while too many, including those who may have genuinely cared for him, took advantage of his failings for their personal enrichment.At the end of the day, it’s a Dickensian tale of human failings without the moral redemption one craves for in the final chapter.And a sad story indeed.

This true story of art world greed and intrigue playing out on the Maine stage was a real page turner. So well written I reread it just to enjoy the language and writing skill. Add to that the fact that I know the Maine setting it plays out in very well, and I can only say this was the best read of the year for me so far. Well done Bob Keyes!

Bob Keyes did a wonderful job of sorting out the characters in Robert Indiana's complicated life.

This is a sad tale with many unanswerable questions but Bob Keyes presents us with a ton of information upon which to draw our own conclusions. And you will need to do so as there simply are “truths” we are unlikely to ever know concerning the final days of Indiana and the various suspect machinations of all those who benefited from his carefree largess—art dealers, lawyers, caregivers. It’s a tangled web and Bob Keyes brings as much clarity to the mystery as anyone possibly could. Deeply researched, with writing that draws upon the beauty of the island in crafting many arresting passages.

Disappointing read.The book puts too much emphasis on the legal aspect of the final days of Indiana.Not much is revealed about the life core of this genial if elusive creator of art.Poorly done

The Isolation Artist: Scandal, Deception, and the Last Days of Robert Indiana
⭐ 4.4 💛 40
kindle: $11.74
hardcover: $6.50
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