The Ego and the Ecstasy

Sculptor Raffaele Martini Pandozy wages a one-man war to revolutionize Dallas' aesthetic from inside his South Dallas fortress

Today, two of Pandozy's works are part of the DMA's permanent collection, though they are not on display.

Pandozy made quite an impression on local artists back then. Many remember him as a man who possessed an innovative mind and a gift for self-promotion. He had a sculptor's personality--brash, overly confident, and uncompromising, according to Mike Cunningham, a sculptor who worked at Pandozy's foundry in the mid-'70s.

"Oh, yeah, sculptors are like that. I suppose it's because they operate from the premise only themselves and God can do what they do," he says, laughing.

Pandozy's self-promotion and cavalier attitude earned him the enmity of some. Arthur Koch, an artist and associate professor of art at Southern Methodist University, says he first met the sculptor in the 1970s. Pandozy was as brilliant as he was egotistical, and would use his great talent to justify bad behavior, Koch says. He remembers specifically that Pandozy would offer art students work in his foundry, and then not pay them for their efforts.

"Like many artists that have big egos, he felt that the quality of his art should justify" his actions, Koch says, adding that "talent doesn't justify everything."

The '70s and early '80s were productive times for Pandozy. He began a series of experiments with light on plaster, where he would carve images or words into white plaster. Lighting would create a three-dimensional effect. He also created his "negative sculptures"--bronze works that extended underground. The viewer would step onto a clear platform and look down at the sculpture. He also honed his theories of philosophy and art history.

But for all his activity, Pandozy ran into the age-old problem of having to make a living from his work. And with three children and a wife to help support, he needed to extend his horizons beyond Dallas.

So in 1978, he opened his studio in New York. Things weren't any easier, but at least in New York, he says, he had a better chance of actually selling a few pieces. And at least in New York, there were people to come see them.

Renato Danese was one of them. He met Pandozy in 1980, and was struck even then by what he termed Pandozy's "highly philosophical, high aesthetic" works. "He had a strong social sense in his work, and he wasn't afraid to go against some unwritten doctrinal position within the art world," Danese says. "He had carved out his own sort of conceptual island and was quite happy working within it."

The move to New York eventually turned out to be profitable. Pandozy began to sell his work, slowly at first, but increasingly in the past seven years, according to Evelyne Jesenof, his dealer from the Isidore Ducass Gallery in Manhattan. She calls his work deliberate. "It is based on philosophy, not the slapdash imagination of the artist," she says. "There is a reason for everything being done. And it is worth something."

Those who buy Pandozy's works evidently think so. Jesenof says she sells steadily for Pandozy--about 25 pieces to date. His sculptures start at $5,000. Last week, Jesenof sold a sculpture to a New Orleans business for $12,500.

Pandozy began retreating from the Dallas scene in the mid-1980s while he concentrated on getting his work shown abroad in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. His marriage had ended, and his children and wife left the state. He doesn't talk much about the breakup.

"It was the big problem of nature or nurture," says his 26-year-old son, Maximilian, who lives in Los Angeles. "Dad was always setting up situations to spark our interest. Mom wanted to let nature take its course."

Max became an artist himself, and his father was there to help. When Max later made the switch to acting, Pandozy, although not initially happy about the switch, still supported his son.

"My dad has always been on my side," Max says. "He's happier now that I'm making money."

Pandozy says his artistic life has been a constant struggle to explain and implement his grand ideas to a public that isn't ready for them. He has had devastating results in Dallas, he says.

He points to his effort to start the Dallas Contemporary Art Museum as his artistic Waterloo. He wanted to get back into Dallas art society, and to his chagrin, found the doors utterly closed.

It began in 1993 when Pandozy decided that what Dallas really needed was a contemporary art museum. It wouldn't be just any museum, but a place to encourage and educate artists to create "important" works.

Pandozy says he shelled out $70,000 of his own money to get the idea off the ground. He printed bulletins, hired a secretary, and waged a one-man public-relations campaign to get the word out about the museum.

"But they rejected me," he says of Dallas. "They [the other museums and galleries] saw me as competition.

"It was regionalism and protectionism," he adds. "It was so uncalled for. The arts have to be an open field...The more material, the more people, the better it is."

But some artists say this supposed rejection wasn't protectionism, it was weariness. Contemporary artists in Dallas had been down this road many times, says Don Schol, interim dean of the school of visual arts at the University of North Texas. The idea had come up before, but hadn't made it into reality--except for a contemporary art museum during the 1960s that was absorbed by the DMA. Pandozy's notion came along at a time when there was a lull in energy for such an effort, Schol says.

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