Static: Wednesday, May 02, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Tort and Torso

His “muscled chest tapers to a lean, rippling abdomen with a wide muscled back and full and round buttocks. Giving a sense of realism to the body, the nipples and genitals are realistically rendered.” Promo for a porn site? Hardly. This description of a young man sculptured in basalt comes straight from a Kimbell Art Museum purchase order.

Not to worry, that’s about all the realism that art lovers in Fort Worth will get since he’s also a headless, legless, armless lad, an “over-lifesize torso of a nude, male youth,” as described in a lawsuit filed against the Kimbell in February by Phoenix Ancient Art of Switzerland and New York.

Readers may remember another Phoenix-Kimbell transaction that caused controversy last year. The art dealers sold the Kimbell a Sumerian statuette (reportedly for a price of $2.7 million) that Kimbell director Tim Potts returned in a squirrelly deal that raised more questions from the public than the Kimbell was willing to answer.

The new fight is over the basalt boy. Phoenix claims that on July 17, 2001, the Kimbell agreed to pay $4 million for the ancient torso described by Phoenix as a “successful ... copy [done by an unnamed Roman sculptor] of the famous Doryphorus (the spear-thrower) by Polyclitus.” The torso was delivered “on approval” in December 2001; in January, Phoenix alleges in court documents, the Kimbell approved the purchase, making the agreement binding.

Critics claim that the torso suffers from the same problems as the statuette — a lack of provenance or provable authenticity as to its origins. Phoenix claims it has a solid paper trial going back to the 1930s, but has little public history on the piece because it’s been in a private collection for years. Critics say that’s an unheard-of amount to pay for such a sculpture.

Déjà vu all over again: Phoenix said in the suit filed in the U.S. District Court in New York that the Kimbell has refused to pay the $4 million, and has also refused to release the sculpture.

Now, however, the Kimbell may be willing to settle. This month, the art dealer filed a “voluntary dismissal without prejudice” with the court, which means, simply put, its lawyers have withdrawn the suit pending a settlement. “We’ll go back to court, absolutely,” if the settlement isn’t one Phoenix can live with, said the dealer’s New York attorney, Henry Bergman. “The lawsuit is still very much alive.”

Kimbell attorney Mark Hart and spokeswoman Brenda Cline did not return Static’s calls.


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