MAY 2019

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Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room

Installation view: Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room, Brooklyn Museum, 2019. Photo: Jonathan Dorado. Courtesy the Brooklyn Museum.

On view
Brooklyn Museum
January 11 – August 4, 2019

Lemme walk across a room presents “painting in its most dynamic state,” artist Eric Mack told Artnet News. This current exhibition is full of paintings that can be entered, walked around, under. Mack, who staunchly identifies as a painter, has produced an installation for the Brooklyn Museum’s Great Hall that is void of the medium’s historical materials: oils, acrylics, canvas, and supports. The son of two exhibition designers at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Mack is steeped in museological systems of display, and his project is as much a weaving of fashion and architectural vernacular as it expands traditional conceptions of painting.

Mack’s paintings, made from suspended dyed silks and cottons, reckon with the limitations of the medium, especially in relation to its environment. Seat Pleasant (2019) traverses the entire atrium, using its columns as mounts, creating a web of fabric that is quite literally off the wall. In the corner, an oscillating fan makes these bolts billow softly, like a clothesline in the breeze.

Mack has cited Sam Gilliam’s drape works from the 1970s as a critical reference for his suspended textiles, and the two artists share a fascination with the clothesline—both for its formal qualities and its social implications (its reference to the body and, at scale, to neighborhoods and domestic life). Clotheslines also appear literally in Mack’s work, as a kind of pun: shirts on dry-cleaner hangers hang on ropes at either end of the Great Hall.

Installation view: Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room, Brooklyn Museum, 2019. Photo: Jonathan Dorado. Courtesy the Brooklyn Museum.


The clothesline allows paintings to turn away from their frames toward suspension, and use of the material coincides with early examples of institutional critique. At John Weber Gallery in 1973, Daniel Buren exhibited nine striped canvases indoors, one at the gallery window, and strung nine more on cables over West Broadway. Buren’s exhibition, called Within and Beyond the Frame, opened the gallery to weather and painting to movement. Stringing his paintings outdoors literalized an interest in a more vulnerable form of painting, as well as a turn to the outside, both its social and political conditions. Mack takes up this principle more explicitly by admitting fashion, sculpture, collage, and readymades into his paintings. “Everything I bring in,” Mack told Artnet, “comes back to the aesthetics of painting.”

Tartan Film Strip from 1987 till Recent (2019) is one such example, in that it incorporates materials from several walks of life: fashion, design, and pop culture among them. The painting, a collage on oilcloth, is a mood board of his visual references composed of a cover of Artforum, a Celine ad, and a cover page of the African Sun Times. He also includes a spread of Courtney Love, Brigitte Bardot with Catherine Deneuve, and a clipping of a Japanese moon vase. The title’s allusion to a film strip is fitting; a mood board embodies the principle of montage, one image beside another.

Installation view: Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room, Brooklyn Museum, 2019. Photo: Jonathan Dorado. Courtesy the Brooklyn Museum.


Rauschenberg’s paintings and combines, too, were influential for the artist. During a 2017 residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Mack worked at the artist’s studios in Captiva, Florida. There he sourced the ladder included in The opposite of the pedestal is the grave (2017). Consisting of a ladder, a plaid bed skirt, and a cowboy hat, the assemblage is all too human, and has the effect of a 50s dramatic Western à la Johnny Guitar.

Lemme walk across a room finds its analogue in Mack’s concurrent site-specific work, Halter (2019), at Desert X in Coachella Valley, California. It, too, extends “beyond the frame,” as Daniel Buren put it. Co-curators Amanda Hunt and Matthew Schum described the work (a defunct gas station at the edge of the Salton Sea draped with airy fabrics courtesy of Missoni) as “living architecture.” Living, maybe, thanks to the breeze. From atrium to desert, Mack’s interventions, though resolute, have a much-needed lightness.

Contributor

Sophie Kovel

is a contributor to the Brooklyn Rail

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MAY 2019

All Issues