Judge blocks 'concealing' of Van Gogh painting, sets hearing date

Posted at 7:03 PM, Jan 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-11 19:06:52-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Wednesday afternoon, a federal judge blocked the Detroit Institute of Arts from moving or hiding a Van Gogh painting at the center of a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The order states the DIA is prohibited "from damaging, destroying, concealing, disposing, moving, or using as to substantially impair its value." A hearing is set for Jan. 19 at 10 a.m.

Ken Music and his wife Rhonda said they're members of the DIA. They're making the most it by appreciating dozens of Van Gogh’s paintings from all over the world that are now on display in one location.

"This was our third time (seeing the Van Gogh exhibit)," he said.

When asked, Ken Music replied, "We are Van Gogh lovers."

Rhonda Music said, "The uniqueness is that it took them 10 years to bring this together, and they brought 74 different works of art of Van Gogh.”

One of those pieces, "Liseuse de Romans" or "The Novel Reader," is at the center of a newly filed lawsuit against the DIA. A Brazilian art collector, Gustavo Soter, claims he bought the piece six years ago for $3.7 million.

At that time, he said he gave possession of the painting to a third party but not title.

He said that third party took off with the painting immediately. After six years of searching for it, the Brazilian art collector saw a photo of it on social media and learned the piece is on display at the DIA.

Now, the art collector is suing the DIA.

“I really didn’t think too much about it. It happens all the time in the art world. Paintings recovered, stolen," Ken Music said.

Ramon Lockett told 7 Action News, “That’s wild for one. I’m wondering how it was able to get stolen if it was that important.”

Frank Seymour said he thought “it’d be great to see it and what the controversy is and recognized so much news about it recently.”

Wayne State University Fine Arts professor emeritus Jeffrey Abt told 7 Action News this type of ordeal isn't unheard of.

"These things happen, and they've been happening more frequently in recent years as people who are disputing works of art discover that they are in a museum sometimes temporarily, sometimes as part of a loan exhibition as is the case here... discover that they are in a museum," Abt explained.

The Detroit Institute of Arts issued the following statement to 7 Action News on Tuesday:

“The Detroit Institute of Arts, like all AAM-accredited museums, regularly enters into loan agreements with other national and international museums and collections. Before agreeing to international loans to the DIA, the museum follows best practices. This includes the research of ownership from scholarly sources, the Art Loss Register, and, where applicable, the US Federal Register.

(Tuesday) evening the DIA was made aware of a complaint filed with respect to a work of art currently on loan to the DIA. The DIA has not yet been served with the complaint and cannot comment on the matter."

7 Action News also reached out to Varnum Law in Grand Rapids, which is representing Soter, the Brazilian art collector. As of Wednesday evening, the firm has not responded.