Monday, January 24, 2011

Shop ‘till you drop (to your knees); Charles LeDray, WorkWorkWorkWorkWork Whitney Museum

LeDray’s mid career survey includes an installation piece “Mens Suits” that harkens back to the good ‘ol days of musty bargain basements, perhaps populated by invisible little denizens from a Twilight Zoned dimension.
A “worms eye view” perspective of seedy looking suits neatly arranged on racks, with carefully folded tee shirts, and “back room” paraphernalia such as dollies and hampers full of hangers is spread out on the floor in 3 segments in a large darkened gallery. Getting a good look at these mini dramaturgies requires bending at the knees (watch out for your back!), but is rewarded by an entrancing glance into the compact psyche of an artist model maker extraordinaire.
The issue of scale is first and foremost in these intricately conceived sculptures. This universe of shrunken garments, never meant to fit our bodies or perceptual norms, magnifies our ungainly physical presence as giant viewers tromping about the delicacies on display.  
The notion of missing persons and departed souls engages the artist’s prosaic intentions. Detritus from lost childhood innocence and a sentimental longing for a father’s long gone uniforms, informs our sense of the vacated space that these constructions inhabit, a void surrounding and insulating the artist’s sensations of loss and memory.
LeDray has made his marks in the art world playing “small-ball”, at times barely managing to avoid clichéd lapses into Peeping-Tom dollhouse fascination, and then emerging with impeccably crafted objects profoundly freighted with the dysfunctional trauma’s of abandonment and abuse.   
His obsessive compulsion to grind out in exacting detail, the myriad components of midget clothing accessories right down to tiny miniature shirt buttons is astounding. Its kind of like going to a freak show without the freaks, just their accoutrements are on display.
But these leftover garments are poignant symbols of the fragile interrelationship between father/son, work/duty, and homosexual mores.
“Overcoat” epitomizes the artist’s approach to eloquently layered levels of metaphor and fabric. This freestanding edifice couples a suave formal classicism with an outsider vernacular. Displayed on a ubiquitous hanger, resembling an overstuffed tent protectively cloaking many smaller coats, it insinuates lives within, containing a collective consciousness of unknown identities.   
“Jewelry Window” pays stark homage to victims of AIDS. Set in an inky dark room the hushed acoustics mute the raw emotional resonance portrayed by gracefully sweeping necklines of empty black jewelry display forms. This funereal vitrine is backlit by a diffuse pale fluorescent source that sustains a disturbingly dreamlike, otherworldly effect of dissolved souls gone to the other side. 
It was with some relief that I reemerged with my physical body intact in time/space.  
Its not all doom and gloom with LeDray. He has a whimsical side that manifests itself with delightful results in some of his flat pieces. Associations with quilted matrix and collage are seen as inventive takes on those traditional media. Although there is no painting or drawing in this show, the artist’s deft hand convincingly substitutes thread for the drawn line and colored cloth for chromatic fields of pigment.    
Like other virtuoso talents, Ledray can get carried away by his own golden touch. There are instances when his neatness and perfectionist tendencies can get tedious and precious. The devotion to preppy men’s jackets in various states of shredded mayhem repeats itself a few too many times. The cuteness factor of fashionably adorable apparel occasionally veers treacherously close to product placement.
The artist could also be accused of self-absorbed, autobiographical indulgence but we don’t know this for sure. Even though his work is rooted in representation he keeps us guessing as to context. You have to carefully consider relationships to not only implied personal histories, but the cosmic condition as well.
One thing for sure, LeDray’s unflaggingly macro dedication to prolific micro art making is interwoven into the fabric of his deliciously nuanced and multitudinously tiny & tidy creations.

"Mens Suits"


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