In a manner of speaking, it is time for Eric N. Mack’s close-up: his first sizable solo in a New York gallery. For over a decade, Mack has been navigating the sprawling area shared by painting, sculpture, installation, textile design and fashion. But so far his appearances here have mostly occurred in one or two pieces at a time, either in numerous group shows (including the 2019 Whitney Biennial) or the occasional single installation, like ones at the Brooklyn Museum and the Jeffrey Stark Gallery, also in 2019.
At Paula Cooper, nine pieces — including “2 Time (Sly),” a smallish hanging piece of crisscrossing swaths of orange and blue — permit a new intimacy with Mack’s sensibility: his selections of fabric for visual and symbolic effect; his use of the needle arts and other techniques; his approach-avoidance relationship with painting and, similarly, to his use of the wall and interior space.
The quilt-like “Mary” juxtaposes a yellow plaid that incorporates the colors of the Pan-African flag with a muted upholstery fabric suggestive of staid, well-behaved American interiors and values. The mostly red or printed fabrics of “Rock river melody,” are stitched into a relieflike physicality, while their motifs (palm trees, fruit and maybe two female profiles) bring to mind Gauguin. The outstanding work here is “4 Joe Mack,” in which stretcher and wall are partly exposed and various long pieces of fabric converge at a center where quilting and ruching are irreverently evoked. Convergence is the name of Mack’s very lively game.
— Roberta Smith