AVE MARIA — Internationally acclaimed artist Márton Váró, who created the roughly $3 million Annunciation sculpture at Ave Maria University, is suing his partners, demanding an accounting of what was paid and what he’s owed for that sculpture and other works.
However, Michael Windfeldt of Estero, who owns Galerie Du Soleil on Broad Avenue South in Naples, says Váró has been receiving payments and that he was complying with a July 31 deadline to provide an accounting of sales and payments.
Váró’s lawsuit, which isn’t against Ave Maria University, suggests he suffered financial losses and seeks a full accounting of his deal with Annunciation At Ave Maria LLC, the corporation set up to receive funding for the oratory sculpture.
“Defendants’ misrepresentation induced plaintiff Váró to continue working on the large AAM Sculpture despite his misgivings and the lack of AAM financial information,” the 17-count lawsuit says, alleging he believed he’d receive the “promised payments.”
The lawsuit also seeks an inventory on the sales of his works by Soleil Fine Arts Inc., Windfeldt, and his father and partner, Gene Leroy Windfeldt of Bonita Springs and Minnesota. They’re partners with Váró in the Annunciation LLC.
The lawsuit, filed in Collier Circuit Court on Wednesday, also asks Circuit Judge Hugh Hayes for an emergency injunction to stop the Windfeldts and Soleil from using Váró’s name, including Varo Sculpture Studios, varosculpturestudios.com, martonvarosculptures.com and Márton Váró Sculpture because the agreement for selling castings of his art was never signed.
In addition, it seeks the return of works on consignment at Galerie Du Soleil on Broadway in Naples and his molds and castings. The gallery’s website shows 23 sculptures on sale for about $3.2 million and 13 sold, but their selling prices aren’t listed. The lawsuit says damages are “incalculable,” but conservatively estimates more than $1 million in Váró’s works is at stake.
“His livelihood depends on this,” said Váró’s attorney, Robert L. Klucik Jr. of Ave Maria, noting that Váró, 68, is near retirement age. “The bulk of his work is in Mr. Windfeldt’s hands and he refuses an accounting. ... Márton is a man who has done something wonderful. This is an attempt to pursue justice.”
The lawsuit also seeks damages for each art customer or dealer the defendants solicited using Váró’s appropriated name, in addition to royalties, punitive and exemplary damages, which are meant to punish, set an example and deter such wrongdoing.
The Windfeldts’ attorney, William O’Neill of Roetzel & Andress in Naples, said they don’t comment on pending lawsuits.
Michael Windfeldt sought Váró, of California, to create a sculpture on the oratory at Ave Maria. The project, completed in January, took nearly three years and more than $3 million and was the first project by Ave Maria Foundation for the Arts, a group funded by private donations.
The relief depicts the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 120 tons of Carrara marble hand selected from Cava Michelangelo, the same quarry Michelangelo used. It shows an angel giving Mary a message, “Ave Maria.”
Váró traveled several times to Italy, carving marble in both places. The largest blocks were nearly 7½-feet tall. Near the campus’ library, he could be seen sweating in the hot sun as he sculpted blocks, which Klucik called “backbreaking work.”
Contents of the May 30, 2009, Annunciation of Ave Maria LLC Operating Agreement, attached to the 22-page lawsuit, shows a complex list of what was required and what would be done, including records to be maintained, the method of accounting by fiscal year, priority of expenses, side sculptures, voting, loans, allocation of profits and losses, and distributions to interest holders. The actual agreement, which would show amounts, is not included.
The lawsuit also demands the agreement with Ave Maria Foundation for the Arts and Váró’s copyright assignment to that group.
Klucik said the Annunciation agreement drawn up by O’Neill was signed, but the agreement for Windfeldt to sell works, create molds of Váró’s works and sell sculptures wasn’t. It was done “on a handshake” because Váró had worked with him since 2005 and trusted him.
The lawsuit also alleges the LLC’s funds were used to underwrite a musical Latin Mass composition, which wasn’t the purpose of the contract. It also alleges breach of contract and misrepresentation, saying Gene Windfeldt commissioned a $70,000 cube sculpture, gave him a $20,000 downpayment, but didn’t provide two more monthly payments because he was “no longer interested.”
Michael Windfeldt said Váró was paid $750,000, so far, for the Annunciation project, and an additional $300,000 for other works, as well as receiving free housing from Ave Maria, use of a 1994 Chevy Suburban, and a rental car in Italy. He maintains Váró didn’t manage his money well and sued because the checks stopped.
“He feels he has more money coming to him,” Windfeldt said, adding that he’s disappointed Váró sued before the deadline. “We went far beyond what he agreed to do in the first place. ... I like Márton, I love his work, but I can’t afford him anymore. I feel bad it’s ended this way. ... I thought we were making progress.”
Klucik said there was no July 31 deadline and that Váró had trusted Windfeldt, but asked for an accounting of sales and payments in the past two months.
“We presume and assume the best on the part of Mr. Windfeldt and this is something that can be resolved in a good fashion,” Klucik said, adding that Windfeldt should have an inventory of all sales. “I don’t see how ‘He was paid more than $1 million’ is a defense.”