Not MADI Anymore

The ugly lawsuit between the owner and creator of the MADI Museum in Uptown has been settled. I know, you can breathe now.

Seemed like every day, or every hour, in May we were running items about the federal lawsuit involving artist Volf Roitman and the MADI Museum. Maybe you remember it: Roitman's the guy who turned the formerly drab law offices of Kilgore & Kilgore, PLLC and the Kilgore Law Center into the Technicolor retreat that has sat at 3109 Carlisle Street in Uptown for the last three years. Roitman, who was born in Argentina but lives in Florida, was claiming that the owner of the building and the firm, Bill Masterson, was getting ready to sell the building to a developer, which would have meant, Roitman insisted, the destruction of its facade consisting of 65 laser-cut panels painted by the artist. Masterson insisted he not only didn't want to destroy the museum, but he wanted to expand it. Still, Roitman filed for a temporary injunction in U.S. District Court, Northern Division, seeking to prevent the sale of the two-story, 16,564-square-foot 1970s building and the destruction of his artwork affixed to its exterior.

At stake, Roitman's attorney claimed, were constitutional issues protecting an artist's rights, but buried within the smaller story of a guy trying to save his building was the larger tale of a busted friendship. Roitman's wife, Shelley Goodman, and Bill Masterson's wife, Dorothy, attended Highland Park High School together in the 1960s, and it was Shelley who introduced Volf to the Mastersons 40 years ago in Paris. For a long time, they were "very good friends," Roitman told Unfair Park in May, "and [Bill] was one of my best collectors for 12, 13 years." But things fell apart: When asked in May if there was any chance this lawsuit could end in a settlement of some kind, or with some kind of friendly arrangement accorded their years of friendship, Masterson sounded pretty absolute on the subject. "There is," he said, "absolutely no chance."

Turns out, there was some chance after all: On September 18, the Roitmans and Bill Masterson got together with mediator Joseph Cox, of Hughes & Luce, and over the course of one day and 11 hours (and at the cost of $3,200), according to court documents, they settled their suit. Terms of the settlement are being kept confidential, but on Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan signed the order making the case go bye-bye.

As recently as August 24, chances of a settlement seemed awfully unlikely. In court documents, Roitman claimed he had gone to the museum with a video recorder and documented damages to his artwork. Masterson's attorneys shot back with a letter accusing Roitman of "tampering with the artwork himself." Roitman's attorney, Jonathan Winocour, wrote in the August filing: "This is the first time Plaintiff's counsel has expressed such outrage, but it is not the first time both he and his client have been the target of what can only be construed as psychological gamesmanship, tactical litigation and male fides generally." Turns out a lot can happen in three weeks: from allegations of abuse to a group hug, more or less.

And the MADI Museum doesn't seem to be disappearing any time soon: Says on its Web site there are exhibitions scheduled through April 2007. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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