The Cliffhangers

Bob Mallary oversees the installation of his monumental sculpture "Cliffhangers" at the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens.


In 1962, Mallary was one of a number of painters and sculptors commissioned to embellish the outside of a circular building in the New York State Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Mallary’s contribution was The Cliffhangers, a tangle of tuxedo figures, frozen in grotesque postures, clinging precariously to a horizontal ladder mounted on the side of the building. Flanked mainly by pop art amidst the atmosphere of exposition festivities, The Cliffhangers seemed to some singularly out-of-place. But to the artist the commission was an opportunity to make a public statement and to execute a figure group on a Baroque scale. In the Guggenheim proposal he described it as a “collapsed vaudeville act, a cluster of mountaineers in disarray. Harold Lloyd is hanging there by the hands of his clock.” The governing mood was a bleak, though frantic, existentialism which also referred to the impending nuclear holocaust. On the general subject of “negative” imagery he wrote in the self-interview in LOCATION:

“...several years ago there was an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art called The New Image of Man. Artists of diverse persuasions were represented, including Willem de Kooning, who is commonly thought of as an Abstract Expressionist, and Dubuffet, who is commonly thought of in connection with art brut. All of these artists had the human image in common and all of them made this image monstrous in varying degrees and in a great variety of ways. It was as if none of them could think of contemporary man as heroic, beautiful, noble or good, as human subjects were depicted in Greek sculpture or Renaissance painting. I would say I fall within this very broad ‘image of man’ category, but that I am trying both to expand and intensify the image.”

However, he also brought out that there is “buried beauty within this ugliness” and that the artist “restructures, remeasures and reproportions the lines, planes, masses and intervals. The new structure can be beautiful in a new way.” He then pointed out the relevance of all this to Sycorax, and proceeded to ask himself: “lt would appear then that you place great emphasis on formal values?” To which he answered: “Finally, they are almost everything.”

(1963-64), 20 ft. x 20 ft.
Plastic impregnated tuxedoes with wood and welded steel.
Shown New York World’s Fair 1964-65.

The Cliffhangers