|From Gladrags to Riches
London Evening Standard
16 July 2009
Charles LeDray wears his art on his sleeves. There are hundreds of them here on the miniaturised jackets, shirts and polo tops in this intriguing, beautiful installation - not to mention the Lilliputian trousers, ties, bow ties, gloves, hangers, display rails, tables and ironing boards that make up three model-village-like scenes from the world of vintage clothing - a Spartan showroom of a smart tailor's shop, a messy dry-cleaners and a second-hand clothing store.
As he is obscure and reclusive, not many of us have heard of the 59-year-old American artist Charles LeDray, who began to attract attention in the mid-Nineties with his highly symbolic, careful compositions of tiny clothes, all sewn himself by hand. His work is now in the collections of some of America's best museums, but this is his first solo show in Britain.
The show has been organised by Artangel, one of London's oldest and most innovative curating and commissioning bodies, which specialises in site-specific, out-of-gallery experiences. Its big project of last year, Roger Hiorns's Seizure, a council flat in south-east London covered in blue crystals, is on the shortlist for this year's Turner Prize and is back by popular demand at the end of this month.
LeDray spent three years making Mens Suits. The exactitude of his work, and the transformation of scale, create an intensely symbolic atmosphere. It's a strikingly original, frankly unmissable work of art that uses clothing to construct an existentialist meditation on identity, individuality and mass society. In the past, collections have been used to evoke the Holocaust; there are too many Hawaiian shirts for that. These aren't your typical gladrags: LeDray's fashion style is bold and eccentric; it's all about showing your personality through what you wear. It nods in the direction of Comme des Garçons with its mismatched and loud fabrics, but LeDray is an artist, not a designer. He uses pattern as abstract painters use paint, constructing a little masterpiece of colour with one outfit on an old-fashioned tailor's dummy - a clash of checks and tartans between jacket, trousers, tie, shirt and pocket handkerchief.
No detail has been left to chance. A low ceiling of miniaturised polystyrene tiles hangs over the interiors, which are lit by panels of neon lights, some of which have an orange glow, as if they are old and worn out. On the top of this ceiling LeDray has carefully arranged large amounts of grey dust, thereby contrasting the cleanliness and order of pressed clothes for sale with the chaos and filth which gathers, wherever it can, just out of reach. This is also, finally, the thrift shop as memento mori.
- Ben Lewis