Peter Max, the wildly successful artist whose work defined the psychedelic aesthetic of the hippie generation, has been at the center of a number of lawsuits since 2015. With Alzheimer’s symptoms for a number of years and suffering from advanced dementia since at least 2019, these lawsuits over Max’s custody, which was filed in 2015. A long explanation followed in 2019 The New York Times said this custody was instituted at the request of Peter’s late wife, Mary Max, but a recent court filing on behalf of the guardian alleges that it was Peter himself who requested it.
Max’s daughter Libra Max and her boyfriend Edward Tricomi have fought to remove custody, but in a December 13, 2021 lawsuit, Max’s guardian Barbara Lisner is suing Libra and Tricomi in the New York State Supreme Court for defamation, alleging that Libra” has sought to revoke custody of custody and has repeatedly asked the court to appoint her as guardian of Peter Max,” the indictment said, also noting that Libra’s renewed interest in the case has been “backed by the ‘Free Brittany [sic] Spears’ movement’, referring to the hyper-public custody battle that the pop star recently won.
The new indictment, along with years of previous lawsuits, paints a picture of an extremely messy situation in which none of the protagonists are portrayed in a flattering light. The word “kidnapping” has been thrown around multiple times, targeting multiple parties, with Mary Max accusing Peter’s estranged son Adam Max of “kidnapping” his father, and with Libra and Tricomi accusing Lissner of having the artist.” kidnapped” and engaging in “human trafficking” against him, the defamation charge said. The latest complaint states that Libra accused Max Lissner of “seizing” and “alienating” Max’s cats, before claiming that “Libra has seized Peter Max’s cats and only she knows where they are” . The complaint also alleges that “Libra’s lawyers suggested that Libra would begin making press releases that” [Lissner] steals from Holocaust victims to coerce [her] discharge from custody.” (Lissner is an estate attorney who has worked with Holocaust victims.)
In 2021 Libra spoke to The New York Post, arguing that her father is “treated like a prisoner” as a result of custody, and claims she is only allowed to visit her father for one hour at a time, with visits limited to a public bench in Riverside Park. Libra and Tricomi have created a website, FreePeterMax.com, where they have issued press releases and court documents and published a letter of support signed by hundreds of signatories.
Max’s late wife Mary, who died by suicide in 2019, also faced a number of abuse allegations before her death.
There have also been a number of lawsuits by collectors against both Max and Park West Gallery – a private art dealership that regularly holds auctions aboard cruise ships, with Max’s paintings often being one of the biggest draws – mainly on allegations that the collectors were misled the value of the works amid claims that Max’s studio is in fact a highly lucrative factory-like operation, with mercenaries creating paintings that Max later signs.
Peter’s son Adam spoke to The New York Post on behalf of Lissner, saying, “Everything Barbara Lissner claims is true.” He added: “Barbara Lissner gives my father excellent care. He’s never been treated so well in his life.” While Libra Max’s attorney, Jeffrey M. Eilender, said: The mail that the new case is “spurred on by greed and a desire to silence Libra Max for exposing her father’s abuse”, adding that “the suit is a fabric of lies and money making”.
In 2019, a reporter for The New York Times tried to interview Max herself about the ongoing situation, but when she arrived at the artist’s house, she found that Max was in a state of dementia-related confusion that was far too severe for the two of us to have a conversation.