Sean Sullivan, the curator of “Sun is Setting/Faith in Strangers” at Devening Projects, is very much a maker, an assembler. He is very good at cobbling odds and ends together. I imagine Sullivan could make an excellent soup no matter the contents of the pantry. Soup, or rather the kitchen table, is a good place to start when understanding the dynamics of this exhibition. Imagine the sun is low and a soft amber light is spilling in through the windows, and a small group of strangers have gathered around the table—drinks, laughter and the collective chime of busy silverware. Conversations flicker back and forth, and these small, chance engagements lead from one place to another as voices join in and the sound in the room begins to swell.
This might give you a good idea of what “Sun is Setting/Faith in Strangers” feels like. There are seven artists in this tightly packed exhibition: Jose Cabaco, Sky Glabush, Hernan Paganini, David Ryan, Sean Sullivan, Linne Urbye and Allison Wade. The installation covers the floor and the walls in a collection of intimate conversations between strangers, artists. These “conversations” are sometimes dense, collections of both sculpture and paintings grouped together in small masses throughout both of Devening Projects’ rooms. It is the kind of installation where you have to squat and lean and crouch and look around each corner, each painting’s edge. You have to be careful not to miss a green pencil glued to the bottom of a frame or accidentally pass a colorfully painted sconce that feels like someone shrunk a Barnett Newman zip painting and made it into a ladder.
The best evidence of these relationships at play is in a grouping in the first gallery that partly covers the lower portion of a wall and extends onto a large chunk of wood that rests on the floor. A twenty-four-by-eighteen-inch red Paganini collage leans against the wall overlooking a small and humble ceramic sculpture by Wade, barely six inches between them. Around these two objects are a scattering of Sullivan’s paintings (some monotype drawings) on paper and a single Cabaco photograph lying on its back, face up. Sullivan has folded many of his drawings into freestanding shapes. One is a zigzag accordion shape and the other, with wide folded edges facing inward, looks like a maquette for a stage in the theater, its would-be backdrop depicting a landscape made of calligraphic lines that form buildings, trees and a fenced-in pasture with animals. Most of the artworks are bound together by soft and simple curves, subtle nods to geometric abstraction and their thoughtful engagement with a wide spectrum of colors.
These collisions of abstract (often leaning toward the figurative) forms and staccato rhythms of color throughout the room sit somewhere between language and rhythm. It feels like we are reading sheet music, trying to pick up a song that has drifted into the room from some open window. Wade’s sculptures, which take up the majority of the floor space in both rooms, would be the oboe, with their quirky but lonesome sound that bends and leans in strange ways. Glabush’s paintings might then be the collective resonance of string instruments, with their many luminous layers of thinly painted pigment and sand on canvas.
There are quiet moments, too. On a shelf in the second gallery stands a collection of unframed photographs by Cabaco, barely one-by-three inch images in a large two-inch margin of white paper that depict simple images such as a horizon, a shadow on a wall and a portrait of a woman in a large sun hat. They draw you into an intimate interior space that feels both cerebral and familiar. There are also precarious assemblages of cut mirror seated in small eight-by-six concrete rectangles by Sullivan that sit on the floor along the gallery walls, looking up. They reflect the gallery lighting in a broken array of geometric shapes and I found myself standing over them, swaying gently side-to-side, watching pieces of my face shift awkwardly in fragmented reflection.
Ultimately, this exhibition addresses both the fragmented form and the collective whole in a multitude of ways. Sullivan understands that a conversation in a small room is not only a sum of individual voices that constitute its form, but also a collective warm buzz, a cloud of sound. I can’t help but think of the solitary snare in Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro,” pressing forever onward in a steady, unwavering tempo. The snare is joined by a poignant melody, sung by the flute. Then comes the clarinet, the bassoon, the harp and many others, blooming into a momentous crescendo. (Cody Tumblin)
“Sun is Setting/Faith In Strangers” at Devening Projects, 3039 West Carroll. Through May 18.