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Child's Play 

Teeny weeny artworks: They may be small, but they pack a big punch

Wednesday, Feb 19 2003
"God is in the details" could easily be the credo by which sculptor Charles LeDray lives. The New York artist crafts obsessively meticulous miniatures that invite closer inspection: 25-inch garments; diminutive doors equipped with tiny hinges, locks, and knobs; and glazed porcelain jugs and vases that could fit in a dollhouse. Under LeDray's needle and thread or carving knife, everyday objects like buttons, ceramic vessels, and toys are elevated to high art; 30 of these elaborate works are displayed in "Charles LeDray, Sculpture 1989-2002," a retrospective exhibit.

Organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the show of tiny artworks holds its own in the spacious Yerba Buena Center galleries: LeDray's pieces may be small in scale, but they pack a powerful punch. Indeed, much of the oeuvre's intensity is a product of its Lilliputian dimensions. Upon first glance, LeDray's handiwork appears quaint -- cute, even. But closely scrutinized, the otherworldly pieces stir up darker associations. Untitled (Broken Bear), for instance, was once a cuddly stuffed animal, but dismembered and shredded into tatters, it looks like the victim of a violent assault.

A self-taught artist, LeDray employs skills typically associated with "women's work" -- weaving, sewing, and making pottery -- to create some of his most autobiographical compositions. For example, S.A.M., a 25-inch replica of a security guard uniform he wore when he worked at the Seattle Art Museum, is nearly an exact duplicate of his original outfit (jacket, white shirt, tie, and polyester pants), right down to the embroidered seal on the coat. Charles, a tiny blue jacket and oxford, is adorned with even smaller clothing, mainly women's attire -- bras, robes, bathing suits, and skirts -- that dangles from the shirt's hem, a possible allusion to alternate lives. Come Together combines the personal with the political: An homage to LeDray's late mother, it's a shrunken denim top festooned with emblems from the '60 (flowers, peace signs, and doves), with an arc of even tinier clothes hanging like a rainbow between the cuffs. workworkworkworkwork, a fastidious arrangement of 588 items -- downscaled magazines (each of which can be opened and read), clothes, dishes, and shoes -- was first exhibited on a New York sidewalk, where its reference to the goods homeless people hawk on city streets must have seemed especially poignant.

Though clothing is the most frequent image in LeDray's work, his recent sculptures concern other household items that subtly remind us of our own mortality. Buttons, an array of 130 fasteners carved out of human bone (which LeDray claims to have purchased from a mail-order company), takes on a morbid quality. The same goes for Door, a 2-by-5-inch entryway that stands alone and leads nowhere, perhaps symbolizing passages into other worlds. Mesmerizing in its intricacy, LeDray's art is so subtly powerful that you may never look at a dollhouse the same way again.

About The Author

Lisa Hom


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