Robert Mallary “The Human Condition”

Mitchell Algus Gallery

poster for Robert Mallary “The Human Condition”

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Robert Mallary installing The Cliffhangers on Philip Johnson and Richard Foster’s New York State Pavillion, New York World’s Fair, 1964. Mallary’s sculpture is behind scafolding at right. The sculpture above the artist is by Alexander Lieberman.

The Mitchell Algus Gallery presents an exhibition of sculptures, paintings and drawings made by Robert Mallary (1917-1997) between the years 1938 and 1965.

Although the gallery has worked extensively with Robert Mallary’s art since it’s beginning, helping organize exhibitions with Paul McCarthy at the Wattis Institute, at The Box LA, the Mayor Gallery in London, and Kerry Schuss in New York, this is the gallery’s first solo exhibition of Mallary’s art since his death in 1997. The current show focuses on the humanist, anti-Fascist and existentialist perspective manifest in Mallary’s work, paralleling similar sensibilities then emerging in philosophy, literature and theater. Mallary’s art of this period projects a rapturously dark vision extending
across media with a formal rigor and will to innovation in service to the artist’s developing worldview. Working at a time when formalist, pop and minimalist art often suppressed overt political messaging, Mallary’s persistent humanist creed is unusual. A self-interview from 1963 where Mallary discusses his philosophical approach can be read here.

In 1936, at the age of 19, with war in Europe on the horizon, Robert Mallary traveled to Mexico City, attracted by the political concerns reflected in art being made there. Mallary studied at Escuela de las Artes Libro with the expatriate Czech printmaker Koloman Sokol, and later worked with José Clemente Orozco experimenting with new media (hence his use of polyester resin and Duco automotive lacquer). Mallary spent several periods in Mexico City in the late 1930s and early 1940s, eventually returning home to Berkeley, CA as World War II neared an end (Mallary received a medical deferment). His work done in Mexico received considerable attention at the time, including a one-person exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1944. A review of that show in the Oakland Tribune can be read here.

After his return from Mexico, Mallary took a job in advertising illustration working with Wayne Thiebaud at Cole of California, a swimwear maker in Los Angeles. Later, he taught at the University of New Mexico where he met Elaine DeKooning who in turn introduced him to Dorothy C. Miller, a curator at MOMA. Miller included Mallary’s work in her 1959 show, Sixteen Americans (along with Robert Rauchenberg, Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella, among others). DeKooning also introduced Mallary to Alan Stone who would become his primary dealer.

In addition to the drawings done in Mexico in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the current exhibition includes paintings executed in Duco lacquer from the early 1950s, along with some of Mallary’s earliest assemblages made using polyester resin and exhibited in 1954 at the Urban Gallery, his first solo show in New York. Sculptures from the early 1960s made from tuxedos impregnated with polyester resin from a series that culminated in his monumental sculpture, The Cliffhangers, installed on Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, are also included.

Mallary’s use of polyester resin in making the Cliffhangers, resulted in severe health problems, which the artist documented in an article for ArtNews in 1963, one of the earliest warnings of the hazards some art materials. No longer able to use polyester resin, Mallary went on in the mid-1960s, to make direct casts of junk materials in bronze, three of which are included in the current show.

After taking a professorship at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in 1966, Mallary became a pioneer in using the computer as a tool for making art. Working with his son Michael, a student of physics at MIT and Caltech, Mallary wrote a computer program (TRAN2) to create stacked planar transects that could be assembled into abstract sculpture. One of these sculptures, Quad III (TRAN2), was shown in the Whitney’s 1968 Annual Exhibition: Sculpture, the first museum display of a computer-generated art object. (Mallary’s work was also shown in the Whitney Sculpture Annuals of 1960, 1962 and 1964.) With access to computers at UMass and his interest in new media, and given his illness from working with resin, Mallary continued to use the computer as an art-making tool for the rest of his life, returning in the late 1980s to making new assemblage in addition to his computer art.



from September 07, 2019 to October 13, 2019


Robert Mallary

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