Critics’ Picks

Sean Sullivan, Rooms of different temperature and feeling, 2021, oil, spray paint, cardboard, masking tape, metal tape, and sand, 10 1/2 x 12 x 2".

Sean Sullivan, Rooms of different temperature and feeling, 2021, oil, spray paint, cardboard, masking tape, metal tape, and sand, 10 1/2 x 12 x 2".

Chicago

Sean Sullivan

Devening Projects
3039 W Carroll Ave
March 13–April 23, 2022

The warble of a chord emanating from a rigged toy organ fills the room in Sean Sullivan’s exhibition “In the shade of a tree.” It quivers and rings and hums and then, as if sound could be an image, fades out of view. Your concentration moves elsewhere.

More than twenty mixed-media works are hung in a single line around the gallery like an optical poem, taking up surprisingly little space. No composition is larger than a square foot. Yet upon these little surfaces, Sullivan expresses a lot.

By animating a hodgepodge of materials, textures, and patterns, these pieces exhibit the makeshift peculiarities of domestic crafting. A few vignettes recall miniature interiors: In one compartmentalized construction, Rooms of different temperature and feeling, angled slopes read as unadorned stairwells, while in the high-relief You take the spirit in (both 2021) bits of foam, wire, and cardboard become a fixture that calls to mind an architectural ornament. Despite their playful, diminutive scale, these works are extricated by abstraction from twee, treacly territory.

Distinct from Sullivan’s delicate draftsmanship, the works are quite sculptural. As in shadowboxes, cardboard perimeters and partitions protrude from their surfaces, which carry dainty miscellanea. But what these shallow receptacles primarily hold is color, which the artist turns into something palpably physical, object-like. Evoking a serviceable yet slapdash placement of paint on a palette, each hue—be it a smear of white, a blob of blue, or a wash of gray—applied in its own unique way holds its own. Sullivan’s elegantly crude tableaux come from working with what you have, but they voice the thrill of finding what you may have forgotten. It’s stirring how a morsel of something can hold one’s attention, unearthing a memory or delivering a quiet (yet marvelous) revelation.