Critics’ Picks

Ryan Sullivan, Untitled, 2018, cast urethane resin, fiberglass, epoxy, 84 3/4 x 59 1/4 x 1 1/4".

Ryan Sullivan, Untitled, 2018, cast urethane resin, fiberglass, epoxy, 84 3/4 x 59 1/4 x 1 1/4".


Ryan Sullivan

Sadie Coles HQ | Kingly Street
62 Kingly Street
January 12–February 23, 2019

Ryan Sullivan’s name doesn’t manage to crop up in the 1,400-word press release for “one minute’s music, one minute’s time,” his third solo exhibition here. To the uninitiated, the text accompanying the show echoes a dissertation on the history of jazz. But as is so often the case, in saying nothing about his practice, the press release says everything: Bill Evans’s “Jazz-Process,” the subject of this theoretical treatise, is given visual form across Sullivan’s fluid, shambolic surfaces.

Several of these cast-resin pieces stretch nearly from floor to ceiling, morphing and divulging greater detail as the viewer draws closer. Zoom in, and they’re practically topographic: congealed liquid turns architectural; planes of white and coral scrape and dribble into three-dimensional landscapes. Sullivan’s images are records of their production—indices of his processual improvisation. Spontaneous, yet informed by the contours of each preceding stroke.

In traditional composition, work time is protracted, only to be compressed in the moment of performance. Of course, improvisation—jazz—is instantaneous, structured by rehearsal but realized in the absolute present. This exhibition’s title refers to this spirit of improvisation, central to Sullivan’s practice: From his earlier paintings to these cast-resin works, he leans into the qualities of each medium that resist control, yielding to their natural transformations in time. No will to control here, he explains in an interview, disavowing the unfashionable machismo of abstractionists past.

The exhibition ends with a room of smaller works on paper hung in rigid proximity. Absorbed all at once, they’re atonal, overloading the faculties. But as with the larger works, close examination is rewarded, revealing intricate lattices of softness and abrasion. Their unrepeatability may be central to their character, but to accredit these moments to sheer chance is a criminal slight to Sullivan’s talent.