Saturday, February 5, 2011

LeDray at Whitney

Note: When I asked, I was told that the policy at the Whitney is no cameras at all, so none of these pictures are mine.  Please follow the source links for more information and photos.

A co-worker came in last week raving about the Charles LeDray exhibit at the Whitney. He immediately recommended it to me This was different than normal though. Often when someone makes a recommendation, it is some form of, "I saw this and loved it; you should go see it too." This time it was much more, "I saw this and thought of you. It will speak directly to you. You are going to love it; you must see it." I couldn't resist a suggestion like that, and I'm happy to say he was very right.

Charles LeDray is an incredible artist and an amazing craftsman. I think it is important to point these two things out separately in order to do justice to either of them. Hubby and I were extremely lucky and as soon as we entered the exhibit floor we stepped directly into the beginning of an impromptu guided tour. I think I would have enjoyed the work if I encountered it on my own, but of course I always enjoy added details and discussion about the pieces.

I am not an art critic, and I do not have the language for talking about art with much depth. So, I don't know how to describe what I consider good art beyond saying that it should evoke emotions in me. The emotions it creates should be intended by the artist.  With that as a measuring stick, the most successful piece from LeDray that I saw last night was Party Bed.

From Valerie Seckler
 This piece is the bed, where all the coats of the party guests are waiting out of sight while the people do whatever it is they are doing in the other room.  While a lot of his pieces had a similar sense of nostalgia or familiarity, I was drawn to this one because of my relationship with the 'coat room.'  When I was young I would visit my grandparents. I have considered their spare bedroom mine ever since my uncle moved out of it. 'My' bed, was the bed that the coats were all laid out on when company came.  During different phases of my youth, I had different feelings about this. There were times when I felt like this was a great and fantastic responsibility. I was handed all the coats to put in the other room, and I was being trusted to care for them and protect them for the evening. (I of course abused this power and would secretly stroke the fuzzy fur linings of the hoods and cuffs.) There were times that I felt like this was an intrusion of my space, the only space that I could claim in all of Illinois. (I lived with my parents in Wisconsin so I only ever visited Illinois.) Then there was one visit when Grammy took the coats and laid them all out on her bed. I can say I was upset or bothered, but I felt something strongly enough that I remember noticing.

That is just my story.  There is so much more going on with this piece that I don't have to relate to personally for it to be interesting.  For example, who are the people in the other room?  What kind of party is it that brings together a leopard print coat, denim jacket and that bright blue back pack?  What's under the bed? (Really, there is something there.  If you see it you should get down on your hands and knees for a peek.)

From Regina Hackett
This suite is what I enjoyed the most as an example of his craftsmanship.  (I apologize, I don't remember the name of the piece. Hubby thinks it is something similar to 'Little Suit Cut Out of Big Suit.) LeDray makes everything in his art himself. I can't emphasize enough the everything part of that.  In the Party bed, he made the jackets, the bed, the frame, the rug, the tag on the mattress threatening legal action if removed. His pieces are all on a smaller scale than the actual items they represent.  I've seen his stuff called 'tiny' and 'miniture' but I think the phrase our tour guide used really made the most sense to me.  His work is "the size that it needs to be." There is a lot to observe and take in with his pieces and It couldn't be done if they were all life size.  First, because they would seem too ordinary and secondly because the perspective will be all wrong.  (You'll understand better if you watch the short film in the end of the post.) What this means is that everything has to be created on this smaller scale.  He sews every article of clothing. He created every hanger.  He has even made the display cases for most (if not all, I just cannot confirm that it is all) of his pieces.  I was really able to see how amazing it was in this suite piece.  He made the larger suit, and then from that he cut the pieces necessary to make the smaller suit.  He cut them in such a way that the patterns on the tie and jacket still look appropriately scaled in the smaller piece.  One of the buttons on the larger jacket is missing the tiny little buttons that are on the smaller jacket. I liked the idea that this piece spoke about family.  The little suite created from and connected to (by holding hands) the big suite. It warmed my heart (with the thoughts of kids and family) at the same time as causing a touch of dread (at the inevitability of becoming our parents).

The meticulous attention to detail is amazing in all of his work.  The themes of family, the working class, and gender and incredibly conveyed.  I loved this exhibit.  It spoke to me, and I highly recommend you see it.  If you are in the NYC area it is only at the Whitney until February 13th. If you can't make it, I recommend this video about his installment Men's Suits (which is part of the current display.)

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