Monday, February 22, 2010

Menswear in Miniature: Charles LeDray

Charles LeDray's Mens Suits installation, an Artangel commission somewhat recently exhibited in London was what what actually inspired me to want to write a blog.  I had thought to write it a proper review for publication in the fashion academic sphere, but as time has passed and it is with awe and admiration mainly that I think of it, I prefer to sing its praises here, and to inspire others to seek out LeDray's work.  Other reviewers have also found it worthy of praise.
I went to see the piece on what was meant to be its closing day at the old Chiltern Fire Station near Baker Street.  Stepping into the cavernous yet intimate room, I immediately stopped to take it in, a highly effective trick of scale, and then - whoosh - I was immersed in the wondrous realm of the miniature.  The three installations of men's clothing in miniature were enrapturing.  Like awkward mistakes in perspective or dollhouses you must climb stairs to peer into, the installation conjured a simultaneous feeling of unease and delight.  

Closer inspection revealed a wealth of detail and immediate awareness of an artist's passionate obsession and commitment to process.  The exhibition's catalog includes a number of explanatory essays on the piece, LeDray and the work's context.  I hope to add to those analyses not with more of the same, but with the personal reflections it generated.

The first tableau I spent time engaging with appears as a second hand clothing store.  Unique but familiar, vaguely vintage menswear crowd a circular rail and rectangular table.   The clothes are arranged as they would be in a charity shop - neat yet somewhat shabby in themselves, bearing signs of wear and evoking the lives to which they have been witness. Because each garment is a scaled down replica of an actual garment from which it was cut, these pieces are like relics of an ideal form.  Originals destroyed in order to make single copies.

The second vignette takes the viewer behind the scenes of what feels like the same second hand store, to its storage and work room.  Here bins and crowded rails of clothing sit beside laundry bags, an iron and board and stepladder.  The virtuoso skill in producing replicas in miniature becomes overwhelming as the eye travels over a hanger full of tiny leather gloves, and the rail laden with plastic and wire hangers.  A few of the wire hangers even bear the standard paper dry cleaners thank you label.  I didn't know at the time that LeDray was based in New york City, but the canvas bin, and dry cleaner's tags immediately caused me a wave of nostalgia and a flood of memories of rummaging through rails at the Salvation Army on 44th Street searching for the right sized trousers while costume designing on a miniscule budget.

The last installation, of a tailor's dummy, and pinwheel arrangement of neckties on a round table, didn't captivate me as much as the others.  However, I was distracted because as I approached it, I was no longer alone in the space.  A young father with a toddler in a pram entered the gallery and stood behind the charity shop scene.  Seeing the scale of others in relation to the work re-ignited the uncanny feeling of discrepancy in scale.  Even the small child would seem a giant if he chose to break free of his pushchair and enter the scenes (which I secretly hoped he would).

After taking some frantic notes, and considering breaking the rules by taking photographs, I reluctantly left the old fire station, pleased that I had decided to venture west of Liverpool Street that day, but disappointed that the show was about to close and I could not recommend it fiercely and visit it again.

Then, on a trip to Rotterdam to see the work of my tutor Judith Clark (Art into Fashion and the Bueymann von Beuningen Museum) I was rewarded with another view of Mens Suits.  Following its premiere in London, the work travelled to Rotterdam and was installed just outside the Art into Fashion show.  

Here in the stark modern museum, the clothes seemed to be trying a little harder to appear significant.  Yet, they seemed also to be proudly on tour, challenging people to stop on their way to the gift shop or for an espresso break.  And here, you could take pictures.  And pictures with other spectators present.

Although the actual experience of scale inertia can only come by seeing the actual work, the pictures here do some justice in conveying the sense of uncanny quietude and wistful nostalgia that Mens Suits inspired - twice.

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