Eric N. Mack and Vivian Suter: How to fill a space

Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room, installation view. (Brooklyn Museum photos: Jonathan Dorado)

By Kristen Clevenson / Eric N. Mack‘s exhibition “Lemme walk across the room at the Brooklyn Museum and Vivian Suter’s eponymous show at Gladstone Gallery are ostensibly similar. Both artists have completely transformed white cube spaces with thoughtfully hung, colorful, unstretched artworks. Mack’s installation, both commanding and purposeful, remains an assembly of individual artworks. Suter, on the other hand, has embraced a more integrated installation. 

Vivian Suter, installation view at Barbara Gladstone

In her exhibition, over 100 large, color washed, abstract canvases are nailed to the walls, hung from a large wooden structure in the center of the gallery, and laid on the floor, bathed in natural sunlight from Gladstone’s skylight. Meant to evoke her home in the Guatemala jungle, the installation is visually striking and holistically compelling. It may also be a little frustrating. The overlapping, untitled canvases occlude one another, so that it is impossible to view many of them in their entirety. I wanted to flip through the hanging pieces, hung like banners so closely adjacent that their surfaces were barely visible, or stand on a ladder to see them from the ceiling unimpeded.

Vivian Suter, installation view.

Gladstone’s press release states, “Composed individually, the works on view – through their unique display – inevitably become an interconnected painterly biome.” This suggests that the canvases can bothstand on their own and function as elements of a whole. In this particular exhibition, however, Suter seems to have foresworn their independence as artworks by obstructing so many of them; viewers can see all of them in full only in reproduced images on a checklist or website. This leaves me with the impression that the paintings – not quite abstract expressionist, representational, or color field – may not be sufficiently resolved. Yet the privacy and diffidence implicit in this exhibition are not uninteresting. They may be part of a message about artists, process, and solitude.

Vivian Suter. Untitled, Undated Mixed media on canvas 96.5 x 73.5 inches
Vivian Suter, Untitled, Undated Mixed media on canvas 90.25 x 71 inches
Vivan Suter, Untitled, Undated Mixed media on canvas 90 x 70.75 inches
Vivian Suter, Untitled, Undated Mixed media on canvas 92 x 71.25 inches

Mack too transforms the space he is given. Delicate, rippling cotton fabrics, blankets, and oil cloths stretch across the gallery, hanging from the ceiling and pinned to the wall. While creating an immersive environment in dialogue with the classical architecture of the museum’s Great Hall, curator Ashley James has also ensured due attention to each individual piece by making all the pieces visually accessible.

Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room, installation view at Brooklyn Museum
Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room, installation view at Brooklyn Museum
Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room, installation view at Brooklyn Museum
Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room, installation view at Brooklyn Museum

This encourages close scrutiny of the imagery from magazines, subtle colors and patterns, and recognizable found objects in each of Mack’s “textile assemblages,” as well as the connections and differences among the works. Each piece has an accompanying wall label providing a unique title, materials list, and context, and the labels are arranged as carefully and strategically as the artworks themselves. Thus, the installation’s structure and a discreet touch of didacticism bolster the overall impact of both the exhibition and the individual artworks.

Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room,” curated by Ashley James. Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. Through August 4, 2019.
Vivian Suter,” Gladstone Gallery, New York, NY.  April 11 – June 8, 2019.

About the author: Kristen Clevenson is an MA candidate in Art History at Hunter College. An art historian and independent curator, she also works as a Research Assistant / Gallery Intern at Acquavella Galleries in New York.

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