Charles LeDray: Mens Suits

11 July - 18 October 2009
The Fire Station, 1 Chiltern St, London W1

Suited mannequin in fire station Photograph by Julian Abrams

Charles LeDray is one of the best kept secrets in contemporary art. Based in a small studio in New York, LeDray labours quietly away for years on individual sculptures comprising a huge number of individual parts. Amongst his past work is a glass vitrine housing over two thousand unique miniature porcelain vessels, and other works comprise furniture, jewellery and buttons carved from human bone and constructed on a disarmingly small scale.

It’s no coincidence that one of Charles LeDray’s most well-known sculptures is called workworkworkworkwork (1991). Whilst other artists employ small armies of assistants, LeDray is a one-man band. Working mainly with textiles and ceramics, he meticulously stitches and sews, throws and glazes all his work by hand.

All LeDray’s work is like something we have seen or worn, but on a different scale. Much smaller than life-size, they have a quiet, arresting presence. As curator James Rondeau has written, they are “flamboyant and modest, tender and violent”.

Mens Suits is based on clothing. Large amounts of men’s clothing – suits, shirts, ties, gloves – all different, all hand-made and intimately detailed, and mostly appearing second hand. Surrogates for identity, they embody the desire to reveal and conceal, to be marked out as an individual and belong to a tribe. Arranged into three individual tableaux, they work together as collective entities rather than as individual items. All these items of clothing carry a feeling of having being used. They have had a life, dressing some body, and bear a sense of fatigue. Now they are waiting to be used again. Everything is mixed up and sorted in a different way, ordinary clothes brought together by their common fate.

LeDray’s sculptural ensemble imparts no specific stories. The clothes keep their secrets. But through this withholding, the sculpture invites reflection on conformity and difference, rejection and renewal, value and use. Rather than being ‘social sculptures’, LeDray’s work takes material from ordinary life to make forms which address contemporary society in their own quietly compelling way.

Mens Suits was an Artangel commission and was in the making for the preceding three years. It was LeDray’s first major presentation in Europe.

This project was supported by Arts Council England, Artangel International Circle, Special Angels and The Company of Angels