A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Jet Set Saturdays: Robert Mallary at The Box


Robert Mallary, Corner Piece, 1962 – 63. Image courtesy of The Box, LA.

Good morning, adults and adulteresses! I hope the excesses of Friday night don’t ruin your afternoon. Plan to make it this weekend, or any weekend until April 4th for that matter, down to The Box Gallery in Chinatown. The Box is a risky space that deals tough, intellectually rigorous stuff.  So prepare for a wrestling match, darling, and this one is a doozy. Robert Mallary is probably the best artist you have never heard of. His show in Chinatown is a vision of a maker who dedicated his life to exploring artists’ materials and the dramatic forms of the desert combined with the grit of SOHO. Some of Mallary’s work here was included in important exhibitions such as the Whitney’s Sculpture Bi-Annuals of 1960, 1962 and 1966.


Robert Mallary, Incubus, 1959 – 60. Image courtesy of The Box, LA.

Mallary showed his piece, Incubus in the memorable Art of Assemblage show in 1961 at MOMA.  Incubus is just one of the fabulous finds included in the exhibition at the Box. It is one of 17 pieces in total.  Mallary’s historic pieces in the upper gallery are arranged in chronological order from 1958-1962. The downstairs gallery space is more of a mixed survey, with works on paper and assemblages ranging from the early sixties to the early eighties. This show is an excellent stop for someone looking for vintage work from the early sixties to round out their personal treasury. The artist’s work is included in some of the world’s best collections including: the Museum of Modern Art New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Wayne Theibaud and Elaine De Kooning.


Robert Mallary, Trek, 1958 – 59. Image courtesy of The Box, LA.

Mallary, who died in 1997, began to work experimentally with polyester resin in the 1950s. Well ahead of his time, his interests arose from his work in Mexico with Jose Orozco and Jose Siqueros. Thick and dramatic, his sand and polyester resin pieces on plywood, like Trek, speak of a worker’s aesthetic where a black tar-like surface of the street becomes a moonscape, full of anima. This is difficult artwork that will knock your Issey Miyake socks off.  It is ugly, it is creepy, and somehow more alive in its existential dread.  Particularly strong is Corner Piece (title image) in the downstairs gallery, with its impregnated resin limbs that seem to yawn with an implicit graceful motion like the Goddess Arachne stuck in the form of a spider.


Robert Mallary, Jouster, 1960. Image courtesy of The Box, LA.

This show and the entire grouping stands up and stand out for its commitment to avant-garde social realism.  Folded and bent decaying fabrics lean on supports while cardboard, tar paper, wood and dirt create intricate wall pieces. As scabrous and austere as many of these pieces are, they would create a radical wabi sabi juxtaposition in almost any modern art collection just old enough to be shabby, just timely enough to be chic[.]

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This post was contributed by Mary Anna Pomonis

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Jet Set Saturdays: Robert Mallary at The Box