Los Angeles

Kevin Sullivan

Sue Spaid Fine Art

In Kevin Sullivan’s show of simple paintings, silly poems, and objects that would not be out of place on a Hollywood set, the sleep of reason yields mild amusement rather than horrifying nightmares or dramatic disruptions of meaning. Titled “E. Krökus Crock,” this exhibition by the young, L.A.–based artist drew more from comic strips and kitsch than from Surrealism. Although concerned with chance encounters, random events, strange correlations, and the limits of rationality, Sullivan’s art nowhere shares Surrealism’s obsession with sexuality and the unconscious. His light-handed but hardly superficial works stick to the surfaces of things not because they’re incapable of plumbing their depths, but because the sort of meaning they pursue does not need to be dug up, laboriously reconstructed, or carefully pieced together to fill in some fictitious picture of a traumatic primal scene. Sullivan’s works gladly take their place in a world as mundane as it is dumb. With obvious humor and matter-of-fact directness, his flatfooted art demonstrates that it is the quasi-Romantic quest for originality rather than originality’s putative disappearance that empties art of meaning. Neither glibly tongue-in-cheek nor self-consciously clever, Sullivan’s resolutely pedestrian exhibition endows the realm of ordinary experience with the feeling that it need not be radically altered to be interesting.

The centerpiece of this exhibition was Day Sleeper (all works 1992), a not-quite-life-size house, complete with metal chimney, wooden shingles, curtained windows, and a leafless tree in its backyard. The steady, repetitive sounds of someone loudly snoring drew the viewer to the windows with the hope of stealing a glimpse of whatever domestic drama might be unfolding within. When you bent down—at child-height—and peeked through the barely opened curtains, all you saw were the snoring person’s feet sticking out from under the covers of the bed. A thick sock protected one foot from the cold; the other was not only exposed to view but to a pesky fly that continuously circled aroundits toes. Sullivan’s piece played on voyeuristic impulses, on the desire to look at something potentially illicit, but delivered a scenario so ordinary that it bordered on the dull. The artist’s funny send-up of Freud’s notorious primal scene cast psychoanalysis as little more than an overdramatic fantasy that everyday existence has trouble living up to.

Sullivan’s other works also consisted of elements that refrained from tracing meaning back to an originary Oedipal-moment of dread and sexual initiation. In his art, language is not founded on the repression of untidy desires and bodily pleasures—it is a goofy game that is itself out of control, random, and irrepressible. Ballad of E. Kröckus Crock is a nonsensical poem based on a caveman-cartoon character, the fake Latin name of a San Jose tourist attraction, and a type of gibberish that means nothing specific, yet makes “sense” because of its syllabic repetition and echoing sound. Similarly, OIUÖUUAU (NAMES) traffics in the kind of meaning that escapes strictly linguistic interpretation. Like Sullivan’s installation as a whole, these pieces downplay the drama of singular, originary traumas in favor of surveying the potential significance of mundane events and apparently unremarkable occurrences.

David Pagel