Tender Buttons: The Art of Charles Ledray

By Weinstein, Jeff | Artforum International, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Tender Buttons: The Art of Charles Ledray


Weinstein, Jeff, Artforum International


The noise of all the fashioned objects existing in the world is incessant, a racket of fabrication, location, use, reuse, repair, value, and, in the least insistent of whispers, meaning. This ambient noise explains why the silence of an art gallery is not merely conventional, but pertains to its objects themselves. How many extraneous sounds must an artwork filter so its own particular tones may be heard? Is this why contemporary art that refers to use - the most strident of material declarations - must find contemporary tactics that dampen the din of usefulness?

Charles LeDray's first solo New York show, in 1993 at the Tom Cugliani Gallery, consisted mostly of objects made of objects that resembled clothes. Clothing, even clothing with quotes around it, is risky to employ as an art ingredient because it is among the "noisiest" of object categories: immediately and universally recognizable yet culturally and personally specific, reverberant with centuries of connotation and cliche. Of course, when sculpture in the form of clothing is compared to, say, a present-day painting of a horse, a similar artistic problem does rear its head, in this case a sentimental neigh that echoes back to the hollows of Lascaux. All representational art is noisy, it's true. But unlike the ostensible original live horse so many generations removed, the generic 20th-century shirt or skirt had already been conceived and fashioned - represented - before it was refashioned and re-represented by the artist, by LeDray. Mimetic refashioning is this artist's method and challenge, and LeDray's strategies of "silencing" the common noise of what he represents are a good measure of his art.

I recall that it was stock-still when I walked into that gallery. I didn't understand why until later: the "clothes" on the wall had thoroughly absorbed the clothing noise they initially evoked, quieting the street fashion and SoHo windows, the "this looks like this" or "that looks like that" viewers were tempted to claim - even the Japanese shirt off my own back. After a while, listening closely, I could hear something like muffled cries, whimpers, dolly conversations: a little boy alone, a little girl? Also, I picked up the random click of a needle on a thimble, the snap of a pulled thread. Recognition was sucked out of the air and replaced with evocation: of women's work, of sissy play, of thwarted and constrained identity. The easy part of clothing disappeared.

Two facts of LeDray's art led to this. The first is Modernist and formal: tampering with scale. His painstaking poly housedresses, gestural seersucker robes, and gay-inflected bomber jackets and leather harnesses are "shrunk" to various, sometimes disparate (within one work) sizes. They don't seem to be made in any practical Ken or Barbie dimension, so their very existence is disconcerting, surprising. (These fabric constructions emblematize use; they cannot be worn or torn.) They feel like something at the wrong end of the memory telescope, where physical contraction corresponds to past helplessness and worthlessness - but also to secret, delicate, closet observation. It helps to remember that children do not naturally see themselves as small: some, however, are made to.

Perhaps the most ambitious, beautiful, yet disturbing of these whole-cloth pieces was not a single outfit left hanging but an almost seven-by-five-foot net of embryonic jackets, pants, dresses, robes, some in dark gray or black and others in patterns and lighter colors, sewn together sleeve-to-leg and collar-to-skirt into a stretched web of male and female lives. At a distance this untitled piece of 1993 appeared to be an abstract fabric work, the darker areas positioned to focus the plane and move the eye through it. But up close, patterns sharpened suddenly into suburban connective tissue, each unambiguous, sitcom costume warped into El Greco-like distress by the weight of every other. A safety net of victims? A Salvation Army bin - and all its attendant misery and failure - finally transformed? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Tender Buttons: The Art of Charles Ledray
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.