I can’t say it too much,” says Dick Polich, founder and director of the Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry in Rock Tavern. “This is an ‘our business’ kind of venture, and we do it with everybody’s focus and concentration. Any time I talk about the foundry, I always say ‘we’ – I don’t ever say ‘I.’ It is a cooperative effort.”
The “everybody” in question are the craftsmen and women who work – uncredited and invisibly behind the scenes – in the 80,000-plus square feet of the foundry. Their purpose is to transform an artist’s concept into sculptural works of bronze, steel, iron and silver while remaining true to the artist’s intentions. And the list of artists whose work has been fabricated in one or another of Polich’s foundries over the years reads like the table of contents in a contemporary art history textbook: Roy Lichtenstein, Isamu Noguchi, Joel Shapiro, Frank Stella, Nancy Graves, Jeff Koons.
The image that most people have of the artist as a solitary figure working alone in his or her studio doesn’t apply when it comes to the casting of metal sculpture, which goes through many stages before it ever reaches the gallery viewer’s eyes. And many hands have had a hand in the finished work, although as Polich will tell you, they have a motto at his foundry: “No one should see our fingerprints,” he says. “If we are assembling something, no one can find the joint, and if they compare the sculpture in metal to the wax, they should not find differences.”
Polich compares his role at the foundry to that of an orchestra conductor with a talented group of musicians. But despite his protestations as to his individual importance in the overall scheme of things, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art on the campus of SUNY-New Paltz is including Polich in its Hudson Valley Masters series with an exhibition that explores his dedication to fine craftsmanship and the impact that he made on the sculptures produced in his foundry by major artists of the last and this century.
“Dick Polich: Transforming Metal into Art” will remain on view through Sunday, December 14. Polich will come to the Dorsky on Sunday, November 2 at 2 p.m. for a roundtable discussion with several of the foundry staff, who will speak about their experiences working with Polich and the artists.
“Dick Polich: Transforming Metal into Art” was a year-and-a-half in the making, curated by the Dorsky’s Daniel Belasco. The exhibition highlights the evolution in the techniques and materials of metalcasting as fostered by Polich over the years, and reveals the ways in which a foundry director open to new ideas and technology can help shape the work of generations of world-class artists.
The show opens with photographs, drawings and models along with 11 small sculptures by Janine Antoni, Cleve Gray, Tom Otterness, Rona Pondick, Martin Puryear, Graves, Koons, Lichtenstein, Noguchi, Shapiro and Stella. There are process samples that showcase experimental techniques and materials and a charming and easy-to-follow installation created by artist Tom Otterness that demonstrates the steps involved in taking an idea from sketch to finished cast-metal sculpture. The only thing missing from the galleries is the pleasure of experiencing a massive work from the foundry, which would be an impossibility inside; but a short walk from the Dorsky is the temporary installation on campus of the whimsical 36-foot-long bronze Gulliver by Otterness; it was cast at Tallix in 2002 and is on loan in conjunction with the exhibit.
Putting it all into perspective is a gallery at the heart of the exhibit that shows a continuous screening of an absorbing video documentary by artist Stephen Spaccarelli. The Heat of Fusion takes the viewer behind the scenes onto the floor of the foundry where the dirty work gets done, giving a realistic picture of exactly what is involved in this difficult – and dangerous – collaborative process. (In the show’s catalogue, Polich refers to it as “a messy turbulence.”) Through a narrative created by the on-camera remarks of Polich and his friends, family, craftspeople and foundry staff, Spaccarelli documents the significance of what was produced, along with a real sense of the personalities of the people involved.