Ernesto Mallard and Pedro Reyes: Labor.
Ernesto Mallard made his radiant steel and cord "Natura" reliefs between 1968 and 1972--the year of Pedro Reyes's birth. Indeed, Reyes has in many ways lived under their sign. The older artist's late output has provided Reyes with the formal basis for a number of web-like works produced over the past fifteen years. In two pieces made for the pair's recent two-person show, in fact, Reyes employs Mallard's exact technique of stretching vinyl lines over metal bridges, here forming bright oblongs and a harsh TV test pattern in, respectively, Tondo and Caja Boba (Silly Box), both 2014. At Reyes's invitation, Mallard exhibited the "Natura" works for the first time in forty years. Their rich blues, burgundies, and black support a palette shot through with gold and yellow; vinyl starbursts, writhing paisleys, and long crescents span shards of painted stripes. Mallard frames his deep compositions inside bulging acrylic bubbles reminiscent of skylights or jet-fighter windshields, many in braces that hang close to but do not touch the wall, angled forward like gilt-framed old masters. Mallard's concept of kinetic art, however, had a political dimension, too: As the layers of stripes and strings reward the roving viewer with spectacular optical interference, the artist hoped to render "viewership" active, engaged. In 1974, disillusioned by an art world that misused his abstract polemic as decor, Mallard retreated from view.
Elsewhere in Reyes's practice, Mallard provides a more oblique material reference: that chummy emblem of Mexican modernism, the Acapulco chair. This influence is evident in a row of preparatory drawings for his "Capulas," 2001-, a series of big, suspended rooms made of soft vinyl cord and metal rods. Labor included one example, Capula Klein, 2006, a model of a Klein bottle--a mathematically sound, but physically irrational, self-intersecting topological surface. An optimist might describe this form as a continuity between inside and outside; yet in practice, one has the option only to climb inside Reyes's piece, swaying above the concrete like a bird in a cage. As made evident by two Bancas Moebius (Tu y yo topologico) (Moebius Benches [You and Me Topologically]), both 2004, pairs of Acapulco chairs joined into benches shaped like Mobius strips, Reyes achieves functional furniture with a mathy twist. Yet the use of such models as design is an unsatisfying application of both theory and practice--facile math, absurd chairs--functioning mostly to iterate the artist's modernist hang-ups.
Today, Acapulco chairs sit sun-bleached by the thousands; and if Reyes's homages could almost pass for originals, or if Mallard's spun sculptures had been made in 2014, one might perhaps argue for the necessity of a mobile, two-point perspective on the myths of modern art. It's easy to see how Mallard's Op-art excursions could be taken for eye candy. But there's a poisonous wit there--more subtle than the one evinced in Reyes's cheery social sculptures. Whether taking the form of electrifying retro-futuristic chairs or military plastics, Mallard's synthetic modernism represents a dire deflection of passive decorative principles; tomorrowland design and heroic abstract art--two of the most promising Western expressions of the midcentury individual--merge in works equal parts mass-manufactured and transcendent. Moving past, toward, around each piece, the viewer generates a complex interference pattern created by shifting strands and stripes; the work flips from total abstraction to absolute concreteness--from shape and pattern to petrochemical reality. Indeed, the notion that a passive artwork might bodily shift the viewer in the gallery is as jarring as ever--if not for its novelty, then for its radical persistence. It's perhaps only the "moved" viewer, shuffling between the space-times of Mallard and Reyes, who can glimpse this show's latent political through lines. --Travis Diehl