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Ernesto Mallard. Photo courtesy of Labor gallery.
Ernesto Mallard. Photo courtesy of Labor gallery.

Ernesto Mallard (1931–2021)

Ernesto Mallard, a leader of the Mexican Op art movement and an early advocate of kinetic art, died March 19 in his home in Mexico City at the age of eighty-nine, according to his daughter Lia Mallard. The artist was known for his three-dimensional works that invited viewers to touch and explore, and for his assertion, embodied in his work, that a line was “created by a dynamic point that generates a plane and then a poem.”

Born in Veracruz in 1931, Mallard studied architecture at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City before going on to study the plastic arts at the National Institute of Fine Arts, also in Mexico City. In a multifarious practice influenced by the Cold War of the 1950s and the tensions it generated between figurative and nonfigurative social art, and by the desire to get away from the state-linked self-promoting Escuela Mexicana de Pintura, Mallard began creating mobiles and sculptures that played with space through the use of everyday materials, often inviting viewers to step inside them or play with them; additionally, he continued his work with the line as a challenge to the eye using fibers, fabric, iron, and plastic. Perhaps one of his most recognizable works in the latter vein is the triptych Heliogonía, 1968, held in the collection of the Museo Amparo in Pueblo, Mexico. Mallard in the 1960s and early 1970s exhibited widely in Mexico and South America, creating a number of public works, including sculptures, murals, and installations.

Disillusioned with his reception in the Western world, Mallard largely vanished from the art world in 1974. Forty years later, in 2014, the artist Pedro Reyes, who considered himself a disciple of the older artist, enticed Mallard to participate in a joint show with him at Mexico City gallery Labor. Reviewing the show for Artforum, Travis Diehl described Mallard’s exhibited late work, embodied by the “Natura” reliefs made between 1968 and 1972, as “radiant,” characterized by “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,” with other works evoking “skylights or jet-fighter windshields.”

“Art itself can and should approach the public, stimulate them and help them feel, help them think, help them live,” Mallard said in a 2015 interview in Contexto. “A ‘public aesthetic awareness’ exists when, nurtured, stimulated, sensitized, people feel capable of engaging in a critical, fruitful dialogue with the work of art.”

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