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Madness and Fury: Vandals Strike Dallas Sculpture

By Liz Hart |

Dallas artist Sandy Stein stepped out of her rental car in San Antonio, took one look at what they’d done to her sculpture, and began to cry.

Stein’s towering six-foot pyramid, chiseled from black slate and ironically titled “Stop Making Sense,” lay shattered in pieces on the ground, shards of it strewn for yards around its limestone base. Only the day before she had priced the abstract work at $20,000.

Stein’s pyramid was an entry in this year’s Texas Sculpture Symposium, the biennial showcase for Texas artists that rotates among Texas cities every other year. (Dallas played host in 1985.) In March of this year it was San Antonio’s turn, and TSS officials chose a prestigious, multi-use development called Oakwell Farms, owned by a San Antonio businessman and art patron named Robert Tobin, as the location for many of the displays. Oakwell Farms’ sprawling park areas, blended tastefully with office and residential real estate, seemed ideally suited for public art.

But apparently some of the neighbors disagreed. The Oak-well Farms corporate office began receiving complaints almost as soon as the first sculpture was grounded. A few vocal residents particularly objected to a piece titled “Paging Oral Roberts,” which satirized the evangelist’s latest money-making venture.

Police were able to pinpoint the attack at a few minutes past 1 a.m. on Sunday, March 8, because a clock that had been part of “Stop Making Sense” was smashed, its hands frozen near a quarter after the hour. Two other sculptures, including the Roberts piece, were also damaged, but only “Stop Making Sense” was destroyed.

“It hurt so much,” says Stein, remembering that first glimpse of the rubble. “It felt like somebody had stabbed me in the gut. There was nothing left. It looked like somebody just took a sledgehammer to it.” Visitors to the site were struck by the apparent determination and planning behind the act. “Someone spent a long time doing it,” the artist told a San Antonio Light columnist the day she arrived in town. “It wasn’t just one person, and it was somebody equipped with the tools to do it.”

Symposium and Oakwell Farms officials asked Stein not to file a police report or notify the police, but the artist promptly did both. She criticized officials for their lack of moral and financial support and further charged that Oakwell Farms, concerned with its upscale image, was trying to protect the residents who made the threats.

It was mid-April before Oak-well Farms cooperated with the police by handing over names of residents who had complained about the exhibit. But even then, with no witnesses coming forward, police were unable to make arrests. Meanwhile, symposium chairman Bill Maxwell has promised to fill out insurance forms, which could lead to some reimbursement for Stein, but has balked at paying Stein’s expenses-something she claims he agreed to do all along. Within days of the attack, Maxwell confided to a reporter that he thought Stein was behaving like a prima donna. (Several calls to Maxwell for comment were not returned.)

Stein, whose enormous stone sculptures are permanently displayed in Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, says money would be little consolation. For days after the attack she returned to the site like a woman in mourning, gathering the broken slate into a pile. Toward week’s end she had used them to resurrect a new work-called, appropriately, “Phoenix Rising.”

“What I can’t get over is that a work of art that once existed is simply gone,” she says. “The people who did this had to have such madness and fury. I can’t even imagine.”

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