Mike Malloy

Artist Mike Malloy fixing his Ant Killing Machine at OK Harris Gallery, 1972
Artist Mike Malloy fixing his Ant Killing Machine at OK Harris Gallery, c. 1972
The Attendant, part of Mike Malloy's "Insure the Life of an Ant" at OK Harris Gallery, 1972
The Attendant, part of Mike Malloy's "Insure the Life of an Ant" at OK Harris Gallery, c. 1972

Instructions entering the exhibition "Insure the Life of an Ant"

You have insured the life of the ant that is inside the chamber on the top of the blue device. You must choose either

  1. not to kill the ant, or
  2. to kill the ant by pressing the white button firmly down.

Please leave the booth after making your decision. You are not the ant's beneficiary.
"Killing Agent Freon"

It was in late 1971, or maybe early 1972, when Mike Malloy called and introduced himself. Mike had been given our number by Professor Shirley Hopps, who was always encouraging art majors at the University of California at Riverside to try their luck in New York. An early conceptualist whose work directly involved the viewer, Malloy was an instant success. He already had a critically acclaimed exhibition at the Claire Copley Gallery in Los Angeles, and within days of arriving in New York, art dealer Ivan Karp offered him a show at OK Harris Gallery in Soho. We provided Mike with space at 98 Bowery, where he lived and worked for about a year. Malloy’s New York exhibition caused a mini-sensation. Titled "Insure the Life of an Ant," gallery goers entered a room where they were asked to either free an ant or freeze it to death. For me, Mike's art was a revelation and I was instantly converted from a part-time painter to committed conceptualist working with people. Others, however, were less enthusiastic. During the run of his show Mike was continually confronted with angry people and negative comments. A sensitive soul, Malloy was thoroughly shaken by the reaction. He abandoned the psychologically charged content that marked his first foray into art in favor of more poetic pieces. He also sought solace in the philosophy of Gurdjieff. Soon thereafter Malloy left 98 Bowery and New York for unknown destinations. He was never heard from again.