Inward Bound: Jules de Balincourt & the Next to Last Show at Deitch Projects

While it may seem that every press release these days somehow equates the art on view with the Obama era, things really are better now that big dummy Bush is out of office and you can feel it in Jules de Balincourt’s current show, Premonitions, at Deitch Projects.  I’m not saying this show screams, “Yes, We Can,” but with the oppressive anxiety of the Bush era gone, de Balincourt seems to be turning inward, and with some impressive results.

His work has always been catchy, but the best paintings in Premonitions contain a sense of complexity and mystery that exceeds previous efforts. Floating Through It, Enlightened Burn Out Tree, and A Few Good Men, each reference rites of passage, a communion with nature, and the intangible things one learns through traveling.  Whereas earlier paintings relied on eye-catching but flat-footed elements like laser beams zipping through the composition or text that spelled out activist slogans such as “Think globally, act locally,” these paintings refreshingly allow the viewer to pursue their own way through the work.

More painterly than Inka Essenhigh, yet not nearly as gloppy as Hernan Bas, de Balincourt strikes a balance between unfussy and thorough. Up close, we get just the amount of information we need to believe in the image.  Although some of the folk/naïve sensibility that made his earlier work almost cloyingly accessible is still present in these paintings, it is not so much as to distract from the message. In other words, substance finally trumps style in de Balincourt’s newest works.

But before I go overboard praising this show, the truth is that it’s pretty uneven. Power Flower, given prominence on the main wall of the gallery, is a real clunker. The debt to Chris Johanson weighs heavily here; use of converging lines to symbolize the infinite is better left to Mark Grotjhan, not to mention Jay Defeo. Hawkes and Doves, with its swishy mysticism, looks like it could be a sign for those depressing 24-hour psychics that no one goes to. Dismounted pictures two Native Americans sitting beside a pathetically rendered patchwork horse. If one of them were crying the famed single tear from the 70s ad campaign, the painting’s schlocky, moralizing narrative would be complete.  That said, the gains made here by de Balincourt override any missteps, and there are plenty of winning moments on view.

A “closeout sale”-style hanging has become the norm at Deitch Projects now that the gallery is in fact closing in June. Call me a classicist, but I think de Balincourt’s work would have benefited from a pared down installation. I’d also like to see the artist find a dealer that affords him continued growth now that the art market has leveled and the political situation has calmed a bit. And one last thing: it would be great if Deitch’s next and final show, May Day by Shepard Fairey, contained nothing more than a forty-foot version of one of the artist’s signature Andre the Giant images. But I’m not holding my breath.