New York

Lucky DeBellevue

Feature Inc.

While it’s usually considered bad form to begin a review of an exhibition by contemplating something so ostensibly insignificant as the artist’s name, it’s irresistible when that name is Lucky DeBellevue. We all know the common definition of the word, yet, as a noun, “lucky” has, for centuries, if far less usually today, functioned as an affectionate term for an older woman, particularly one of the grandmotherly sort. Given that the artist’s surname translates, loosely, to “of beautiful sight,” we can imagine Lucky DeBellevue as a matriarch with a good eye.

DeBellevue’s work initially underscores such a reading. Since his arrival on the New York scene more than two decades ago, the Louisiana native has been hailed for his intricately woven sculptures: whimsical, if sometimes also slightly disturbing, forms that often tip into anthropomorphism. At a glance, these would appear to coax—in snake-charmer fashion—soft yarn into impossibly calcified poses. But, rather than supple string, DeBellevue’s ingredient of choice is the chenille stem—that fat, flexible, caterpillar-like strand commonly referred to as pipe cleaner. In DeBellevue’s hands, the chenille stem (along with its shiny partner in crime, the tinsel stem) operates as ready-made color and line, enabling the creation of objects that announce themselves as three-dimensional drawings while boldly asserting their uncouth materiality. Sometimes filling entire exhibition spaces with his funky forms, DeBellevue generally creates autonomous objects, these either delicately tethered to walls or ceilings or stoutly standing without reliance on exterior support.

In his most recent show, DeBellevue further plumbed the potential of this most modest (if hardly most minimal) of means, filling the relatively small main space of Feature Inc. with enough campy, wiry beasts to make the place feel crowded even when empty of visitors. Eight sculptures sprawled or hunkered there, some mimicking the natural (a lush spiderweb/jellyfish/anemone hovered in one corner), others suggesting cartoonish characters (a work on all fours and in various shades of brown is reminiscent of Disney’s Pluto). Yet, the underlying theme of DeBellevue’s show was the comedy and pathos of illness and aging.

Incorporating various accoutrements, a number of sculptures presented themselves as organized around found objects that can only be classified as signifiers of the geriatric. One work approximates the tall, hunched figure of a very old person (its strangely concave body inscribed with decorative patterns resembling lightning) leaning on a cane. A four-legged walker (nonsensically supplemented with a cheesy Nike of Samothrace car ornament) is taken over by thickly woven chenille stems that look at once like skeins of cobwebs and the beginnings of an unfortunate scarf. A third work positions a tiny forest of multicolored growths on the cold white plastic of a bath bench like decorative mold.

DeBellevue, who began as a painter, returned to the discipline here, with interesting results. Several seemingly abstract canvases continued the theme of senescence, though with a twist. In Thoughts on the Middle Ages, 2006, a multicolored composition, DeBellevue’s long-evident debt to systematic artists such as Sol LeWitt became more apparent, if even more apparently apostate. Schematic clouds or mountains are rendered as little more than triangles, and a lumbering totemic figure composed of interlocking lines is bent nearly double. Yet, DeBellevue’s glance at the “middle ages”—and at hallowed predecessors—offers a double-entendre of sorts. Drooping and deflated, the overtly phallic figure hangs its weary head, too tired to go on.

Johanna Burton