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LeDray—Pushing Craft into Art

Charles LeDray (b. 1960), Charles, 1995. Fabric, thread, metal, plastic, paint, 19 x 14 x 4 ∏ inches (48.3 x 35.6 x 11.4 cm). Collection of Barbara and Leonard Kaban. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater

Charles LeDray’s work straddles the line between art and craft, making a certain case for the latter that sometimes subsumes the former. He creates miniature pieces of clothing that can be freighted with meaning, magnified when grouped or assembled in a larger context, or abstracted in more formal exercises. He makes inch-high pots and vases and arrays them by the hundreds (thousands?) on shelved or long vitrines, the collections grouped by color: white, polychrome, matte black. And LeDray carves bone, human and otherwise, into delicate pale sculptures that belie the steely strength of their source material.

The Whitney is showcasing LeDray’s output with a mid-career look, workworkwork… (originally shown at Boston’s ICA, whose Randi Hopkins curated it), that occupies an entire floor through Feb 13. A good portion — or what feels like a good portion — of the exhibition has been shown in recent years at New York galleries, underlining one of the problems with museum exhibitions of contemporary artists. The oeuvre feels spread slightly thin, and his obsessiveness with particular genres becomes clear as you encounter repeating iterations. But the installation MENS SUITS occupies a large gallery and elevates LeDray’s meticulous sewing and technical skills and a tendency toward cutesiness. Three installation groupings, collectively depicting different parts of a thrift shop, sit below dropped circular ceilings/light fixtures while the rest of the gallery is dark, focusing the eye and adding a threatrical context that allows his clothing pieces to transcend craft.

The bone sculptures are simply eerie. He also uses ivory, which he’s carved into a human finger. A cricket cage made of bone resonates with all kinds of references —  that man, even after his probably self-imposed demise, can manage to enslave and destroy nature. They’re not quite as viscerally icky as Paul Thek’s meat cross-section sculptures on the next floor, however. The Thek show (through Jan 9) offers a glimpse at another artist prone to obsessions, although with a broader palette, and a more conceptual bent.  These two exhibitions were pleasantly uncrowded, but as I entered the third floor, I found where everyone was — packed into the Edward Hopper show (through April 10), several deep in front of paintings both new to me and very, very familiar.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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