Mural returns home

“14 May, 1968,” created by Pierre Soulages, on display in the Butler Institute of American Art. Photo by Samantha Smith / The Jambar

By Samantha Smith

The Butler Institute of American Art will be presenting “14 May, 1968,” a mural created by French artist Pierre Soulages on April 15.

Louis Zona, executive director and chief curator for The Butler, explained why the mural was created.

“The mural was commissioned by a building in downtown Pittsburgh,” Zona said. “The architect, a French architect, contacted his favorite French artist, Pierre Soulages and put a mural in the lobby of this new building.”

Zona said once the company released the mural, there were complications getting the artwork off the building’s wall.

“I was ever hopeful that the piece would be released by the company and it happened,” Zona said. “We had to get it off the wall in two weeks. Because it was an act of lobby, they didn’t want it to look like a construction site. They didn’t want any work done during the daylight hours, so we can only work at night to remove it. Removing the mural from that wall in downtown Pittsburgh, it was a miracle.”

Once The Butler received the mural, Zona said it was placed in a separate branch owned by the museum. In 2019, the separate branch, now known as The Medici Museum of Art in Howland, chose to keep the mural from The Butler.

The Butler eventually took The Medici to court over the mural’s ownership. The Medici said the mural became a permanent fixture for the museum, which allowed the artwork to stay with it.

The lawsuit reached the Ohio Supreme Court, who later ruled for The Butler to take back the mural in December 2022. 

Zona said there was no doubt the mural was The Butler’s.

“The piece belonged to us, clearly. Nobody else had a right to it,” Zona said. “We could see why there would be an interest in having the piece. The artist and the people that own the [Pittsburgh] building came to [The Butler], so we have all the paperwork.”

To Zona, the mural is a prime example of what ceramics can do in art. 

“It’s one of the great works of art,” Zona said. “It’s a wonderful example of what ceramics can do. This is a piece that was created out of ceramic squares.” 

The mural will be unveiled after a private opening of The Butler’s new wing April 15, where it will permanently reside.

The new wing and ceramic mural will be open to the public April 16 during the museum’s business hours.

For more information about The Butler Institute of American Art, visit its website.