SALT LAKE CITY — A Minerva Teichert painting known as "The Law on the Plates of Brass" is at the heart of a legal dispute pitting a downtown art gallery against the painting's one-time owner, and the LDS Church.
Thomas Alder, owner of Williams Fine Art Gallery, contends two unnamed representatives from the Church History Museum showed up with paperwork to "borrow" the painting from his business and never returned it. Instead, his lawsuit alleges the painting's owner breached their consignment contract and sold the painting to a member of the museum's acquisition committee without Alder's knowledge.
A Dec. 19, 2011, posting by mormonartconservation.org says the piece "found its way into the collection of the Church History Museum."
LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said he had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
The suit filed Monday in 3rd District Court against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints names Kyle Powell, who owned the painting, and several of his relatives or associates as defendants. In addition, it names curators and other officials with the museum as well as two "John Does" as defendants.
Alder, owner of the gallery at 200 E. South Temple, brought the suit after he entered into negotiations with Powell to sell the painting on consignment for an asking price of $350,000. The gallery's take would have been 30 percent commission, or $105,000, the suit said.
After the March 2009 business arrangement was settled on, Alder picked up the 48-by-58 inch painting from Powell in a van. The suit says it was displayed prominently at Alder's gallery, which specializes in "works (that) are highly sought after by the LDS Church, and its members, for placement in buildings such as temples and museums."
Although there was a gallery client that expressed interest at one time, the offer was for $250,000 and Powell declined, according to the suit.
Throughout its display through mid-April of 2011, several museum officials, including director Robert Davis, was shown the painting, the suit claims.
In early 2011, Rita Wright, identified in the lawsuit as a museum curator, talked with Alder about the museum purchasing the painting. Several museum officials visited the gallery to view the work by Teichert, whose best-known works were a series of 40 paintings depicting scenes in the Book of Mormon and a mural in the Manti Temple.
On April 15, 2011, according to the suit, two men who said they were from the museum showed up at the gallery requesting to pick up the painting. They displayed paperwork that was an "incoming loan agreement," that indicated the work would be on temporary loan to the museum until June 8, 2011, the suit said.
Alder alleges he later learned from a representative of Powell's that the LDS Church was not borrowing the painting, but had purchased it through Brad Westwood, a new member of the museum's acquisition committee.
The suit contends both the church and Powell knew the painting was under consignment and still the other deal went forward.
A number of legal civil violations are alleged in the filing, including breach of contract, intentional interference with existing and potential economic activity of the gallery, breach of fair dealing and fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation.
In one action, Alder alleges libel and slander against one of Powell's representatives, whom he claims has done her best to ruin his professional reputation and standing in the art world.
The suit seeks both general and special damages in the amount of $140,000 to compensate for the lost commission and legal fees.
A jury trial has been requested.
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