Two of the works rest on wooden shelves wrapped in linen stiffened with the eggshell-chalk mixture; the remainder lie or stand on the gallery’s handsomely produced, idiosyncratic pedestals. Many of these pieces, propped up with sticks constructed out of sundry scraps, tilt like plants that turn their leaves or blossoms toward the light. The sticks are at once simple and elaborate, objects well loved and much repaired, suggesting an itinerant impermanence. At the same time, each piece’s equilibrium embodies a deep and enduring patience. (O’Leary has described the process of making, remaking, and mending pieces until they no longer fall over.) All are titled with the word cost and a number (e.g., Cost #19, 2018–21), a reflection of the artist’s preoccupation with the toll exacted by the decisions we make, from what we eat and where we live to whatever we choose to create.
The scale of this work is defiantly human, reflecting the artist’s stated desire to make a world without resorting to the easy grandiosity of immense canvases. In these small yet powerful objects, O’Leary “writes the unwritable novel” by wordlessly reframing the idea of what painting can be in this incomprehensible present.