Mens Suits by Charles LeDray

Published on Culture 24

Mens Suits by Charles LeDray, The Fire Station, London, until September 20 2009

First, note the missing apostrophe from the title of this show, in which attention to detail is everything. It’s an intentional flaw which reads like a warning to expect something from the lower end of fashion.

The typo seems to tell you a lot about Charles LeDray. This is his first major show in Europe and his work is little known. He’s not someone with traditional artistic training, indeed he’s largely self taught. And he began his career as a security guard at Seattle Art Museum

But whether the mistake is defiant, self-deprecating or merely ironic is hard to say. From a technical point of view, LeDray is a highly accomplished sculptor. Mens Suits took three years to make, all by hand.

Three pieces are on display at the Fire Station, each one a miniature retail environment. One is a posh Men’s Outfitters complete with a short tailor’s dummy and a 360-degree fan of diminutive ties. One is a thrift shop, with circular racks for jackets and shirts plus a table groaning with piles of folded t-shirts. The third is a laundry area, furnished with more clothes, racks, laundry bags, pallets and a scaled down ironing board.

There are hundreds of garments, all expertly sewn, and hundreds of miniature hangers. Up to four little buttons have been fixed on well-cut jacket cuffs, and there’s a row of tiny gloves – but no one could ever wear these clothes. They wouldn’t even fit a child.

It represents a bewildering amount of work, which calls into question why an artist should go to so much trouble. All we are left with is an effect, albeit a powerful one. The inevitable absence of customers or even sales staff fills these scenes with pathos. Despite the meticulous care taken in production, an air of neglect hangs over the dusty rails of the store and the disorder of the back room.

Suspended ceilings hang low over each installation, limiting full-sized visitor’s views. What this show means is never made clear: it’s quite possible we are not meant to know.

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