In such works as “Running Man,” on display at Gallery A near Dupont Circle, former Washington artist David Suter depicts the metaphoric desire to escape. But there was nothing symbolic about Suter’s release on Monday, when he and gallery owner Victor Gaetan were freed after spending the weekend under police supervision at a hotel in Zajecar, Serbia.
The men were detained as they attempted to cross into Romania on their way to a show there. Border agents seized 68 paintings and four sculptures by Suter and four other artists, according to Gaetan and Suter, speaking by phone from Romania, where they arrived Monday evening. The work, which remains in custody, is by artists represented by Gallery A and Alex Gallery, which share a building on R Street NW.
“This was a remote border crossing in the middle of nowhere,” Suter said. “The situation had the impression of a snowballing effect, where everything got out of control.”
The men were taking the pieces by car from St. Tropez, where they had been exhibited in August, to an upcoming show in Bucharest that has to be canceled, Gaetan said. They were waved into the country without formalities, but when they tried to leave, “We were told, ‘Okay, you’re in big trouble, because you didn’t complete a form for transit.’ ”
The art, Gaetan said, “was all very well documented.” At the customs agent’s suggestion, he valued the art at just $5,000. The art dealer said it is worth more than that, but under the circumstances he preferred not to offer an estimate of value.
The two spent Friday evening and some of early Saturday morning at the border station, while a customs agent repeatedly called a judge to confer, Gaetan said.
After a hearing Saturday that lasted until 1:30 p.m., Suter and Gaetan were ordered to pay fines of more than $5,000 each. No banks were open by the time the court appearance ended, so the men were required to stay in Zajecar until Monday. Their passports were confiscated over the weekend.
On Monday, Gaetan attempted to use his credit cards to get the more than $10,000 required, but no local bank would take them. The men were freed after Alex Gallery’s staff wired the money to Serbia.
Gaetan later heard reports about art seized weeks before at the same border crossing, objects that remain held by Serbian authorities. “There is a corner of Serbia where there is some strange local operation” to seize art, he said.
“We have right to appeal” the art’s impoundment, said Gaetan, who hired two lawyers recommended by the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.
Suter called the weekend’s events “a tragedy,” but added that “the burden of this is on Victor. I’m just an artist.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.