Ruling Gives Disputed Mural to the Butler Museum

WARREN, Ohio – A court has settled a dispute between two museums over the ownership of a valuable work of art.

The art – a ceramic tile mural by renowned French artist Pierre Soulages – will be removed from the Medici Museum of Art in Howland Township and brought to the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, where it will eventually be put on display.

Possession of the 14- by 20-foot work of abstract art had been in the hands of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court for over two years. A ruling this week by an appellate court judge makes it clear that The Butler is the rightful owner.

The Medici was formerly operated as a satellite of the Butler museum until it severed ties in 2019. The Butler removed its artworks from the museum, with the exception of the Soulages mural, which is displayed in a special gallery that allowed passing motorists to view it.

The Medici claimed ownership of the mural, but the Trumbull court ruled against it in June 2020. The Medici appealed the ruling and filed a motion to stay the ruling and block the removal of the mural.

On Monday, Judge Thomas R. Wright of the 11th District Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling as to ownership of the mural. Judge Wright’s ruling dissolved the stay and overruled all pending motions of Medici museum.

“We are absolutely delighted at the outcome, and we are confident of it,” said Lou A. Zona, executive director and curator of The Butler.

Zona said the Butler plans to give the Soulages mural “a beautiful new home” in the addition that is currently under construction at the museum on Wick Avenue in Youngstown.

Much like it was at the Medici, the mural “will be visible from the street and illuminated 24/7,” Zona said.

The Soulages mural, created in 1969, was most recently appraised at $650,000 and is likely worth much more. Soulages, who is 102 years old, is considered France’s greatest living artist.

In its original filing, the Medici museum asserted that the mural had become “a permanent fixture” of the museum and was therefore part of the realty.

BACKGROUND | August 2020 Column by Guy D’Astolfo:
The Art at the Heart of Museum’s Dispute

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