New York

Lucky Debellevue

Feature Inc.

LUCKY DEBELLEVUE IS KNOWN FOR HIS MYSTERIOUS, startlingly prismatic pipe-cleaner sculptures. Unapologetically pretty, they have the allure of a signature material, and one can easily imagine DeBellevue staying the course, making installations, even building a kind of pipe-cleaner Merzbau. But to his credit, he explores other, less immediately charming strategies in four of the seven works recently on view, experimenting with other sorts of cheap store-bought materials like plastic, foam, and tape.

While the Mardi Gras junk aesthetic of his work persists (DeBellevue comes from Louisiana), these new pieces abjure the chromatic cheer of the pipe cleaners, inclining instead toward drabness. This isn't true of every work, but it's pervasive enough for me to suspect in it a fairly deliberate deprivation, a kind of suppression of color in favor of what can be plumbed in its absence—namely, certain formal or conceptual dimensions, DeBellevue's serious side, perhaps. Norwegian Wood (all works 2000), a wall piece, consists of four black plastic compact-disc racks stacked in two columns and crammed with foam tubes—some white, some beige, some gray—from many of which protrude lengths of cord. It brings to mind insulation and wires viewed in cross section and is reminiscent of Eva Hesse's work. On the top of each column is a partially melted black candle. What's it all about, Lucky? Like much of DeBellevue's work, Norwegian Wood combines whimsy with a whiff of allegory, but the dreary tones of the recycled plastic tip the scales toward allegory. And considering the fact that each column also suggests a blown-out speaker, Norwegian Wood seems like the sort of altar a theologian of rock might build.

The other experiments with new materials were somewhat less successful. Untitled, a small folding table whose pale-blue surface is tilted forward, easel-fashion, and nearly covered with strips of white tape, seems to appeal to painting; in any case, its slightness fails to repay attention. Hafen (German for “harbor or refuge”) errs in another way: Composed of strips of plastic, crowns made of disposable cups, a stool, decorative magnets, and brass fasteners, it suggested any number of coronational moments, art historical and otherwise, but ultimately there was too much povera and not enough arte.

Despite the admirable gravity of these works, the three pipe-cleaner sculptures, all Untitled and all very much sculptures in the traditional sense of discrete works, carried the day. One gave the impression of an elaborate fungus, or was it a dancer bounding balletically into a corner? Another suggested the molecular rendering of a new synthetic compound, albeit with a feather on its tush. And the most arresting, an iridescent helmet- or carriage-shaped structure, hung from the ceiling on a yellow plastic chain. At once shapely and shapeless, major and minor, each piece had an otherness and presence peculiar to DeBellevue. Maybe he should construct that Merzbau after all.

Thad Ziolkowski