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The Isolation Artist

The Isolation Artist

Scandal, Deception, and the Last Days of Robert Indiana

by Bob Keyes

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Product Details


ISBN: 978-1-56792-689-7
Pages: 248
Size: 5.25" x 8"
Published: September 2021
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The Isolation Artist reads almost like a mystery novel. Even if you’re not an art aficionado, you’ll find it hard to put down.” —NPR's Best Books 2021

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.


“Engrossing. This hard-hitting exposé of the contemporary art world and one of its controversial figures deserves a wide audience.” Publishers Weekly
“Keyes’s book reads like a mystery, with a cast of art dealers, lawyers, caregivers, and assistants—many of whom were treated badly by Indiana, many of whom made a lot of money from their association with him. And his cause of death? Ruled inconclusive by a medical examiner.” —PBS NewsHour
“A sad and thorny tale of lawyers, egos, and art.” Kirkus Reviews
“A book that is both cautionary and tantalizing—forensic in its pursuit of detail, but not without innuendo and speculation in what it allows those details to suggest.” The Brooklyn Rail
“Keyes reconstructs Indiana’s final years with a journalist’s meticulous eye. Every character in this thorny modern drama has their own agenda.” Foreword Reviews
“The ultimate Mainer-from-away horror story.” Boston Globe
“Bob Keyes’ page-turner, exploring what shaped and plagued the artist behind the famous LOVE statues, will captivate…” Down East Magazine
 “Any artistic acclaim he received was never quite enough for Indiana. . . Years later, there remain unanswered questions about the cause and manner of his death.” New York Post
“There are enough characters involved to put a prestige HBO drama series to shame … Keyes’s book intrigues because of the mysteries at its core...” ARTnews
“A highly readable and thoroughly researched piece of investigative journalism. Bob Keyes tackles it squarely and with genuine compassion.” Maine Sunday Telegram
“This is a true-crime drama, complete with rumors, accusations, suspicion, Pinkerton guards, private detectives, the FBI, lawyers, art dealers, consultants, shysters, and opportunists with their hands in the till. Keyes, however, untangles the mess…” Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
 “Only a seasoned journalist could have written this story, and Keyes clearly hits the mark. It is 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.” Bangor Daily News
“Shrewd and riveting…a spellbinding cautionary tale about the tricky business of mixing art with commerce…Keyes approaches his first book with a scholar's attention to detail and a muckraker's doggedness.” Shelf Awareness
“Reads like a film noir.” The Gay and Lesbian Review
“Art world corruption and back-stabbing…opportunistic vultures circling a belligerent yet vulnerable cash cow. A tale of ego, eccentricity, and enmity. You’ll be shaking your head by the end.” —Carl Little, Working Waterfront
 “The heart of the tale that Keyes expertly spins gets into the weeds of Indiana’s tangled late-in-life encounters with lawyers, dealers, curators and caretakers . . . Keyes cuts through and clearly separates and severs several twisted skeins of the web Indiana spun around himself.” The Free Press
“Attention American art lovers and those who enjoy legal dramas! This book is a crazy trip documenting the decline of the acclaimed Pop artist (think of his well-known 1965 sculpture, LOVE) and the astonishing flim-flam surrounding the business of his artwork. A strange and often unpleasant fellow, (described as "an ass" on page one), Keyes has talked to his friends, enemies, assistants, scholars and museum curators, publicists, gallery owners, and attorneys to get to the bottom of the mysterious Big Grab at the end of his life, and to determine whether or not Indiana was an abused, mentally incompetent victim, and whether or not he was complicit in illegal transactions. Keyes points to his leaving New York and isolating himself on the Maine island of Vinalhaven as the beginning of his troubles and the tarnishing of his legacy.”
—Lisa Howorth, co-owner Square Books (Oxford, Mississippi)


The Isolation Artist is a richly-reported tale of artistic genius undone by extravagance, greed, and age. Bob Keyes has delivered a singular book, revealing all the players and palace intrigue surrounding the life—and controversial death—of American icon Robert Indiana. I’ve been a fan of Keyes’ work for years, and this feels like a book he was born to write, cracking the hard exteriors of the New York City art world and a remote Maine island for the complicated truth within.” —Michael Paterniti, author of Love and Other Ways of Dying
“Bob Keyes has constructed an aptly circular narrative to explore Robert Indiana’s LOVE-less hoarding of hurt in a Maine-island fortress worthy of Stephen King or Jeffrey Epstein. Connecting the dots, from Indiana’s classic Sixties stand for art over money, to his later-life King Baby rage at the money-mad art world he believed had gypped him, Keyes’s fast-paced investigation reveals the ever-diminishing forms that Indiana’s grandiose self-deceit took as he seduced ringkissers and faked four-letter remakes, cashing in on the kind of decamillion-dollar grift and plunder that made the artist’s final days a signpost for the too-much-but-never-enough era that is still defrauding LOVE and HOPE.” —David Michaelis, author of N. C. Wyeth: A Biography
“In this disturbing account of the murky final years of a famous, self-sabotaging artist, Bob Keyes teases out the competing motivations and frequent skullduggery of a jaw-dropping cast of opportunists, takers, frauds, and hangers-on. It reads like a spy novel; I was riveted.” —Monica Wood, author of The One-in-a-Million Boy
The Isolation Artist is a scandalously good tale of intrigue set on a remote Maine island and featuring a rogue's gallery of art hucksters, small-town grifters, and self-dealing drug addicts. But the chief rogue in Bob Keyes's masterful investigation is Robert Indiana, a troubled genius who was often more trouble than he was worth and whose death has revealed webs of deceit that Keyes excels in unspinning.” —Paul Doiron, author of the Mike Bowditch series
Author: Bob Keyes
Bob Keyes has been a journalist for four decades. He is an award-winning, nationally recognized arts writer and storyteller with specialties in American visual arts and the contemporary culture of New England. Keyes has written about arts and culture for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram since 2002. He lives with his family in Maine.