The Genius of Making It Small

Charles LeDray Works

an exhibition at the Craig F. Starr Gallery, New York City, September 9–October 29, 2016
Catalog of the exhibition by Susan Lubowsky Talbott
Craig F. Starr Gallery, 40 pp., $40.00 (paper)
Charles LeDray: Freedom Train, 39 3/4 x 18 x 6 1/2 inches, 2013–2015. The jacket is about twenty inches high.
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford
Charles LeDray: Freedom Train, 39 3/4 x 18 x 6 1/2 inches, 2013–2015. The jacket is about twenty inches high.

For some twenty-five years, Charles LeDray has been surprising and delighting, and sometimes mystifying, the audience for contemporary art. Now fifty-six, LeDray is a kind of realist sculptor whose pieces—in part because his subjects are familiar but not what we would expect in a gallery setting, and in equal measure because he works with such small, essentially miniaturist sizes—have the power of making almost every object he handles seem new to our eyes.

When his art was getting underway, in the late 1980s, he altered the idea we generally have of stuffed animals. Using bears mostly, and sometimes designing them with their limbs askew or separated from their trunks, he gave them the distilled presence of purist, abstract sculpture, and this somehow made their plight seem as much inward and psychological as it was physical. Going on to work as a potter, he has exhibited large vertical glass display cases where on every glass shelf we see scores of neatly placed bowls, pots, jugs, and so on, each about an inch high and each, unbelievably, freshly designed. And as a carver, LeDray has, strangely, used human bone to create phenomenally delicate pieces of household furniture, or buttons of every possible description, or a sheath of wheat.

All these types of works are on view in a well-chosen small show of LeDray’s art at the Craig Starr Gallery in New York. It is the most wide-ranging exhibition the artist has had since his traveling retrospective, which was organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and came to the Whitney in 2010. The current show also includes first-rate examples of what is most engaging about LeDray’s art: his sculptures of clothes. He has designed and sewn diminutive blazers, ties, pants, bathrobes, lumber jackets, suits, hats, overcoats, and other items. They can be presented hanging before us on a gallery wall, where they might be called relief sculpture. But they can be shown naturalistically, too, held by the hooks of a little wood clothing pole, or fixed in place by a similarly small mannequin prop. However they face us they often suggest, in pleasingly ambiguous ways, a story, a person, or a larger atmosphere.

Charles LeDray: Tar Bears (1991), Freedom Train (2013–2015), and Overcoat (2004), on view at the Craig Starr Gallery
Craig Starr Gallery, New York
Charles LeDray: Tar Bears (1991), Freedom Train (2013–2015), and Overcoat (2004), on view at the Craig Starr Gallery

Usually between a foot or two feet…


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