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Diminutive Yet Powerfully Resonant Objects by Charles LeDray at the Whitney Museum
Charles LeDray (b. 1960), Toy Chest, 2005–2006. Wood, wood stain, shellac, decal, cardboard, wire, metal, metal patina, gold-plated chain, screws, nails, wax crayon, paint, ink, epoxy resin, fabric, synthetic fur, leather, vinyl, thread, embroidery floss, ribbon, yarn, string, sisal fiber waxed with paraffin, sawdust, 8 ¼ x 13 x 5 5/8 inches (21 x 33 x 14.3 cm).Collection of Katherine and Keith L. Sachs, Rydal, PA. Photograph by Tom Powel. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater

NEW YORK, NY.-The New York-based artist Charles LeDray, known for his diminutive yet powerfully resonant objects made of fabric, clay, and human bone, is the subject of a major mid-career survey this fall at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Organized by Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, where it was initially shown, and curated by ICA Associate Curator Randi Hopkins, CHARLES LEDRAY: workworkworkworkwork can be viewed in the Whitney’s third-floor Peter Norton Family Galleries, November 18, 2010—February 13, 2011. After the Whitney, it travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, May 8—September 11, 2011.

With approximately fifty sculptures and installations spanning the past twenty-five years, CHARLES LEDRAY: workworkworkworkwork traces the themes that have evolved and developed through the artist’s oeuvre to date. “Since the start of his career, much has been written about Charles LeDray’s early work in terms of childhood, sexual identity, personal history, and craftsmanship,” writes Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown Director, in a catalogue essay that focuses on the captured moment and the fugitive sense of time in LeDray’s work. “…So many of LeDray’s early works convey this fleeting sense of love and loss—what was there is now gone, represented only by a surrogate object.”

In her foreword to the catalogue, ICA Director Jill Medvedow notes, “LeDray’s meticulous hand stitching, exquisite bone carving, and masterful ceramics seduce us with their virtuosity, but it is his consistent inquiry into the complex overlaps between community and the individual, uniqueness and diversity, absence and presence, mourning and celebration that gives LeDray’s art its aesthetic power and great humanity.”

In an era of high-tech mass production, LeDray remains committed to a painstaking manual process, unlike many artists of his generation who have embraced less hands-on methods of art-making. While some of LeDray’s processes are rooted in the traditions of folk art, his art is in no way “naïve.” Having spent years as a museum guard and art handler, LeDray absorbed and was inspired by centuries of art. Whitney curator Carter Foster, who is overseeing the installation of the show in New York, notes, “LeDray’s meticulous making and his virtuosity with materials is often what initially attracts the viewer, but his work has a fascinating relationship with art history as well. This comes through formally, for example, in his incredible ceramics, which reference the entire history of the medium and of the ‘vessel’ as art. But it also comes through in the way he engages display and cataloguing. These two concepts are crucial for our understanding of the art of the past, and LeDray uses these histories to develop an aesthetic that is both poetic and mysterious.”

“LeDray doesn't set out to make small-scale sculpture—a notion that might strike you as odd when you're bending down to get a better look at one of his creations,” says exhibition curator Randi Hopkins. “The sculptures can be considered simply the size they need to be—small enough to demand that we look closer and to let us know they've been made by hand. These works aren't undersized but concentrated, with an emotional impact that far exceeds their dimensions.”

Among the works to be shown are Hall Tree (2006), a standing wooden coat rack hung with coats, with a few hooks still free; the colorful Party Bed (2006-2007) with coats of all sizes and patterns seemingly tossed onto a bed while the festivities take place in another room; Village People (2003-2006), an installation of twenty-one tiny hats that conjures a parade of identities; and Orrery (1997), LeDray’s earliest work made from carved bone, and one which refers to ancient models of the solar system. Some works are connected to personal history and memory, others to communities and social milieus, or the viewer’s sense of time and place within a vast universe—all ideas that recur throughout the exhibition.

LeDray's most recent work is characterized by increasingly expansive, multi-part installations that require years to create. The exhibition premieres Throwing Shadows (2008-2010), an extraordinary new ceramic work, which includes more than 3,000 small black porcelain pots. (LeDray’s earlier Milk and Honey, now in the Whitney’s collection, an astonishing multi-tiered work containing 2,000 tiny white glazed porcelain vessels on glass shelves, will also be shown.) Making its US debut in the exhibition is MENS SUITS, an installation that brings viewers to the floor to examine three very distinct rooms of a second-hand clothing shop in which every item is rendered in extremely precise, intimately wrought detail and scale. In a scene that feels suspended in time and space, MENS SUITS invites viewers to imagine the lives through which these objects seem to have passed—and, perhaps, any chance of their future use and continued existence.

Whitney Museum of American Art | Charles LeDray | New York | Jill Medvedow |

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