Mural Will Be Moved to Butler as Court Ends Ownership Dispute

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – An Ohio Supreme Court decision this week has cleared the way for a masterwork mural by the late French artist Pierre Soulages to be removed from The Medici Museum of Art in Howland and brought to The Butler Institute of American Art, where it will be prominently – and permanently – displayed.

Ownership of the mural came into dispute after the Medici severed its relationship with The Butler three years ago.

Then known as the Trumbull Branch of the Butler, the museum on East Market Street in Howland was managed by The Butler under a contract with its owners, Foundation Medici of Warren. The Soulages mural had been displayed for a decade.

After the divorce, The Butler removed all of the art from its collection that it was exhibiting at the Howland facility, which changed its name to The Medici.

The Soulages mural had been housed in a specially built gallery with a glass wall that allowed passing motorists to see it. For that reason, The Medici claimed the mural had become a permanent fixture of the museum and was now its possession. It filed a motion to retain it.

A Trumbull County judge ruled in favor of The Butler earlier this year, and The Medici appealed the ruling. The 11th District Court of Appeals then upheld the ruling in August, after which The Medici appealed to the state Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which means the ruling of the lower court stands.

Louis A. Zona, executive director of The Butler, said the high court’s decision brings the yearslong saga to an end.

“The Ohio Supreme Court filed a decision declining to accept jurisdiction of the appeal filed by Medici to the decision of the 11th District Court of Appeals,” Zona said in a statement. “This means the decision of the appellate court and the trial court are the final decisions in this case regarding ownership and possession of the Soulages mural.”

In an entry dated Oct. 26, the 11th District Court of Appeals stated that a stay order from the appellate court that blocked the removal of the mural would be dissolved if the Supreme Court declined jurisdiction.

“Therefore, there is no stay in place,” Zona said.

The Butler will now contact an art moving company to dismantle and transport the mural to its new location in Youngstown, where it will be put on display later this year, according to Susan Carfano, executive administrative assistant for the museum.

Katelyn Amendolara-Russo, director of The Medici, said the museum will continue its mission of serving its community despite the setback.

“We have done our best trying to preserve and protect the mural by French artist Pierre Soulages for the people of Trumbull County,” she said in a statement. “Now, this work will become a part of the collection of The Butler, which has dedicated itself exclusively to American art. We remain dedicated to our patrons and look forward to providing exciting opportunities for our community at Medici Museum of Art.”

The 14-by-20-foot ceramic tile mural is valued at over $10 million, according to Butler Trustee Ron Barron.

The Soulages mural will be exhibited behind this glass wall in the addition that is currently under construction at The Butler.

It will be relocated to the addition to the Butler building that is currently under construction and exhibited in a high-profile manner similar to its current display at The Medici.

The addition, which will be complete in February or March, includes a prominent glass window wall that faces busy Wick Avenue. The Soulages mural will be mounted behind the window wall and lit at night so that passersby and motorists can see it from the street.

Barron expressed his pleasure in the court action.

“We’re glad this is finally over,” he said. “There was absolutely no doubt about the ownership of this piece, and all of the art [from the Butler’s collection that was displayed at the Howland museum].”

The Soulages mural, created in 1969 and titled “14 May, 1968,” was displayed in One Oliver Plaza, a skyscraper in downtown Pittsburgh. It was the property of the building owners.

When One Oliver Plaza announced in 2010 that it would remove the mural, Zona inquired about it, and the building owners donated it to The Butler. Zona then spearheaded a drive to raise $350,000 to construct a gallery at the Trumbull Branch expressly to house it.

Barron said the mural “had nothing to do with The Medici, but with Lou Zona saving a major work of art.”

The mural is “one-of-a-kind, historical and with no duplicates,” he said.

Pictured at top: This mural by the late French artist Pierre Soulages will be moved to The Butler Institute of American Art now that a court decision granting ownership to The Butler has been upheld.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.