New York

Charles LeDray

Tom Cugliani

To the art world’s chronic Brobdingnagism, Charles LeDray opposes his own private Lilliput of handmade, obsessively detailed, and generally twee objects. This show of his recent efforts featured tiny garments (like Becoming/Mister Man [all works 19921, a checked suit about the size of a one-year-old) and larger works made of tiny garments (like Untitled/Web, a web made of various Ken-and-Barbie-sized clothes). However, these Lilliputian duds are no play clothes. LeDray uses scale like the sculptor of an ancient Mesopotamian relief: big means powerful, tiny means vulnerable. In The Men in the Family, a pile of male clothes lies on the floor. Each item is of a different scale: Ken-sized jeans (complete with worn knees), baby-sized trousers, boy-sized briefs, man-sized boxer shorts, Jolly Green Giant-sized black-leather belt. What’s going on here? Men and boys without their underwear? Incest? While there is no obvious narrative, the black belt with its gold buckle is so obscenely large that it necessarily calls to mind spanking, bondage, and punishment. You don’t get the sense that this is good, clean, consensual S/M, either.

Whereas Jonathan Swift satirized Lilliput from the point of view of Gulliver (i.e. the big guy), LeDray takes the viewpoint of the small fry, and it’s not funny anymore. Sometimes it’s pathetic: the very deliberate disfigurement of a stuffed animal (its face sewn to its leg, its leg to its arm, etc.) looks like an act of spite on the part of the little guy, hurting something even more powerless than himself. At other times, the work is confrontational and accusatory. Nazis are the only authority figures explicitly invoked by any of these pieces. “Hitler had 1 big ball/Goring had 2 but they were small/Himmler had something similar/Goebbels had no balls at all” is the ditty inscribed on Untitled/Hitler, a sort of crudely carved walking stick (or club, maybe). Is it any coincidence that Untitled/Hitler is the only piece in the show really scaled to normal human proportions? (It’s 36 inches tall, just the right height for a walking stick.) Are we gallery-goers part of a master race, closer in height to Hitler than to LeDray’s 14-inch men’s suits?

By drawing comparisons between viewers and fascists, LeDray heightens the dreadful sense of oppression immanent in his artworks. (Am I a big critic exploiting a little artist?) The astonishingly meticulous attention that he lavishes on details (like the teeny-weeny “DRY CLEAN” tag on the suit of Becoming/Mister Man) starts to look less compulsive than compulsory. Art as slave labor. In another work, Untitled/Clothesline, LeDray sews together tiny garments to make a clothesline. However, it was hung not laterally (like a line on which to dry clothing) but vertically, from the ceiling to the floor of the gallery. It was more like a makeshift rope fashioned in a desperate bid to escape. Unfortunately, there weren’t any windows to climb out of.

Keith Seward