Peter Max has always been one of those names I’ve been familiar with but hadn’t always fully comprehended its importance. My parents had a framed Peter Max poster hanging up in the house, so I saw one of his American flag paintings every time I walked out the door. But it was only more recently that I started to read about his life and works, from being a counterculture pop art figure to doing Taylor Swift’s portrait. But I paid particular attention to his most recent years, which have been unfortunate.
Peter Max is now 84-years-old and has suffered from dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease for about ten years. His daughter Libra is currently in a legal battle regarding her father’s guardianship by the attorney Barbara Lissner. Most people in the United States have probably heard about such legal arrangements mainly thanks to attention gathered by pop star Britney Spears. Her successful attempt to free herself from a 13-year conservatorship held by her father drew attention to the need for reform in conservatorship law. But while a conservatorship gives a conservator control over a person’s finances, guardianship grants much more control over a ward’s day-to-day affairs. In the lawsuit, Libra Max accuses Lissner of intentionally isolating the artist from friends, withholding medical information from his family, charging excessive fees, and siphoning money from the artist’s estate.
However, this case may not be as clear-cut as the Britney Spears conservatorship controversy. This seems less like a concerned daughter seeking to free her father from an abusive guardianship and more like some entitled children fighting to get the better portion of their famous father’s estate. Both Libra and her brother Adam each control 40% of Peter Max’s estate, and each sibling has pulled their fair share of tricks to increase their fortunes. In 2019, Adam Max accused Libra of attempting a hostile takeover of their father’s estate. That same year, however, Adam was accused of abusing his father’s disability to mass-produce Peter Max-style works. An expose in the New York Times described Adam hiring street artists to “[churn] out art in the Max aesthetic: cheery, polychrome, wide-brushstroke kaleidoscopes on canvas. Mr. Max would be instructed to hold out his hand, and for hours, he would sign the art as if it were his own, grasping a brush and scrawling Max.”
Of course, Peter Max likely knew of his children’s behavior, hence why he actively sought a third party as a legal guardian. In 2015, Peter Max objected to having his daughter gain control over his life and assets, consenting to the court appointing a guardian on his behalf.