Robert Mallary at the Box | Art | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Robert Mallary at the Box 

Thursday, Mar 18 2010

You don't have to look far to come across curious descriptions of the materials and media that go into works of contemporary art. Various combinations of cast petroleum jelly, cast polycaprolactone thermoplastic, self-lubricating plastic and other exotics make the list of stuff that routinely goes into the work of Matthew Barney. A drawing by Aurel Schmidt, presently included in the Whitney Biennial, is composed of "graphite, colored pencil, acrylic, beer, dirt and blood on paper." And works by the Viennese actionist Otto Muehl routinely boast ingredients that leave you feeling like you might catch something communicable if you spend too long reading the wall label. But I don't think I've ever found a materials list as simultaneously surprising, compelling and pleasing as a phrase that describes what went in a few of the works by Robert Mallary presently on view at the Box: "polyester resin impregnated tuxedos and steel."

If only the syllables lined up a little better, the phrase could be the perfect haiku, describing not only materials, but the lovely and stirring combination of scrappiness, elegance and experimentality that comes up again and again in this terrific show. Born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1917, Mallary fell in love with the work of the Mexican muralists while he was a kid growing up in Berkeley, and later spent more time studying art in Mexico — part of it working with Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros — than he did in the U.S. His career is marked with hopscotches around the country, and teaching stints in the Southwest, the Midwest, and on both coasts.

Early on, Mallary was prominent enough among the assorted "neodadaists," proto-pop artists, nouveau realistes, "funk," "junk," Dau al Set and arte povera artists the world over, who were looking to bring the common and the raw into art-making, to warrant his inclusion in the 1959 Sixteen Americans exhibition and the 1961 zeitgeist-defining Art of Assemblage exhibition, both at New York's Museum of Modern Art, and the 1960, '62 and '66 sculpture biennials at the Whitney. He also caught the attention of both Time and Life magazines. But, not unlike his contemporary Lee Bontecou, Mallary dropped out for an extended period, ceasing to exhibit between the mid-'60s and the early '90s, and, unlike Bontecou, did not make a major return to exhibiting before his death in 1997, which left him in obscurity.

click to enlarge ROBERT MALLARY, CORNER PIECE (1962-63)

Related Stories

  • Whitney Biennial 2014: L.A. Artists Represent, Again

    A flurry of excitement went through the Los Angeles art world late last week following the announcement of the artists selected for the 2014 Whitney Biennial, which remains the largest and most watched survey of contemporary art in America. Out of a total of 103 artists or artist collectives, 26...
  • 10 Goofy Things to Do When You're Bored in L.A.

    Living in Los Angeles means there's always an endless roster of parties, festivals, events and shows happening at any given moment, in every part of town. And when there's nothing on the calendar, the city's beaches, mountains and parks are the ideal spot to spend a sunny afternoon. But even...
  • 10 Porn Stars Who Make Smart Sexy

    There may very well be porn stars (or even likelier, other flavors of sex worker) who went to the same college as you. But unless you go to go to a prestigious school, being in porn isn't that splashy. Paint it as a salacious story, a feminist story, or a...
  • Relentlessly useless

    Artist Richard Artschwager made his first "blp" circa 1967, when graffiti was just starting to appear in the United States. The charcoal-colored marks looked like lozenges standing upright, and they'd show up on outside walls, subway cars, shop windows or, once, the ceiling of the Whitney Museum. Iconic gallerist Leo...
  • No Gallery For Me

    Bert Rodriguez is doing a piece of performance art. It's called Without You I'm Nothing, and it's billed as "a lecture, conversation and four-course dinner," in which a new, original artwork will be revealed by the evening's end. But right now it apparently involves Rodriguez drunkenly telling the story of...

This exhibition, organized by Box director Mara McCarthy, follows up on the inclusion of Mallary in the 2008 Low Life, Slow Life exhibition curated by artist Paul McCarthy (Mara's dad) at the CCA Wattis Institute in San Francisco, in reintroducing Mallary's oeuvre. And the reintroduction is almost painfully overdue. On view here are works in materials ranging from those resin-impregnated tuxedos — torn apart and then reconfigured into structures that have both an angelic weightlessness and an intense bodily gravity and gravitas — to simply torn newspapers and envelopes. Regardless of media, Mallary has a way of addressing his found fodder that simultaneously embraces its raw, literal materiality, exploits its semiotic load, converts it into dynamic, abstract form and embeds it with a pathos that ranges from the sweet to the wrenching. His works will hit you in your gut and make you scratch your head, and if you let them, they'll even make your heart ache.

The Box: 977 Chung King Rd.,L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 10-6, through April 3. (213) 625-1747,

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets