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Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Presents Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork

Overcoat by Charles LeDray

Overcoat by Charles LeDray

CHARLES LEDRAY: workworkworkworkwork
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
May 15 through September 11, 2011

The New York-based artist Charles LeDray, known for his diminutive yet powerfully resonant objects made of fabric, clay, and bone, is the subject of a major mid-career survey at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Organized by Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, the exhibition traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and will conclude its national tour in Houston.

With approximately 50 sculptures and installations spanning the past 25 years, CHARLES LEDRAY: workworkworkworkwork traces the themes of community and identity that have animated the artist’s career to date. In these meticulously assembled works, LeDray revives manual traditions of exquisite craftsmanship. His sculptures range from re-creations of stuffed animals and tailored clothing to tiny ceramic vessels, bound books, and delicate carvings of human bone. The Boston Globe heralded the exhibition: “LeDray has a poet’s ability to concentrate and lift the imagination. His work registers loneliness and futility, yes, but also togetherness, renewal, and all the endless idiosyncrasies of life.” The New York Times declared that this “magical retrospective … is dumbfounding. That one man could have singlehandedly created all these things defies credibility.”

“Charles LeDray captivates the imagination and his work defies typical museum conventions of presentation,” said MFAH interim director Gwendolyn H. Goffe. “In Houston, he will collaborate with the MFAH staff to create a unique and dramatic installation in the soaring spaces of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Cullinan Hall.”

Toy Chest by Charles LeDray

Toy Chest by Charles LeDray

Alison de Lima Greene, MFAH curator of contemporary art and special projects, will oversee the Houston presentation. Greene states, “LeDray commands our memories with extraordinary eloquence. Whether creating a singular object or an elaborate tableau, he has an uncanny ability to summon absent figures and past experiences. Indeed, many of his works are like miniature time machines, as each element is marked by signs of wear, inscribed by use, and empowered and eroded by love.”

Randi Hopkins, organizing curator of the exhibition, has observed further: “Inspired by the underlying history of objects, both precious and mundane, LeDray evokes both pathos and reflection. [His] importance lies not only in the aesthetic magnetism of the objects he has created, but in the rigorous position he has taken as an artist, anticipating what can be seen in the broader art world as a return to manual craft and the handmade.”

Among the works to be shown are the colorful Party Bed (2006-2007) with a welter of coats of all patterns seemingly tossed onto a bed while the festivities take place in another room; Village People (2003-2010), an ongoing project, presents an array of 52 hats that conjures a parade of identities; and Orrery (1997), carved from bone, which recreates on a minute scale an antique model of our solar system. The exhibition title is taken from workworkworkworkworkwork, a fantastic array of close to 600 miniature items of clothing, accessories, and magazines, laid out much as street venders display their wares.

LeDray’s most recent work is characterized by increasingly expansive, multi-part installations. The exhibition premieres Throwing Shadows (2008-2010), an extraordinary new ceramic display, which includes approximately 3,000 unique small black porcelain vessels. Further making its US debut in is MENS SUITS (2009), an installation that brings viewers to the floor to examine three very distinct vignettes of a second-hand clothing shop in which every item is rendered in extremely precise, intimately wrought detail and scale. In a scene that feels suspended in time and space, MENS SUITS invites viewers to imagine the lives through which these objects seem to have passed—and, perhaps, any chance of their future use and continued existence.

About the Artist

Charles LeDray was born in 1960 in Seattle, Washington, and currently lives and works in New York. The artist’s previous exhibitions include a solo show organized by the ICA Philadelphia (2002); Past Presence: Childhood and Memory, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2005); and the Venice Biennale (1997). In 1993, LeDray received the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award and in 1997 he was the recipient of the Prix de Rome from the American Academy in Rome. The artist’s work can be found in major public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Thanks to the generosity of Nina and Michael Zilkha, the MFAH acquired an intimate tableau that evolved out of the MENS SUITS project in 2010.


The ICA and Skira/Rizzoli have co-published a comprehensive illustrated catalogue designed by Stefan Sagmeister. The publication features a foreword by ICA director Jill Medvedow; and essays by former ICA curator Jen Mergel; Artangel co-director and curator James Lingwood; and Whitney Museum director Adam D. Weinberg.

Public Programs

Throughout the exhibition cell phone audio tours and an Mcast Audio tour will be available. Guide by Cell Audio Tours allow visitors’ cell phones to become their self-paced guide to the exhibition: Visitors call a central number from the galleries, and then enter labeled item numbers to listen to recordings about artworks. Mcasts feature behind-the-scenes information and insightful conversations with curators about the exhibition. Visitors play these recordings on their computer at home or download to a personal audio player free of charge, and can bring the Mcast to the galleries via an iPod of mp3 player. Tours for families and adults, and resources from the Kinder Foundation Education Center, will also be offered throughout the exhibition. Select highlights are listed below:

Thursday, May 26, 2011: Special Lecture. Bill Arning, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, will offer insights into an unusual period in culture when handicraft and traditional masculinity were subversively mixed as manifested in the work of Charles LeDray. This lecture is presented as part of Ninth Freed Lecture series, made possible by endowment income from the Eleanor and Frank Freed Foundation.

Sunday, June 5, 2011: MFAH Family Day. At this program, families can discover art together through an assortment of fun activities: a story-telling experience, a performance or film, and art-making activities inspired by the exhibition.

June-August 2011 (8 programs): Picture Books: Summer Art Camp with Harris County Library and the MFAH. During the summer, MFAH Family Programs staff collaborates with Harris County Public Library to introduce children and their parents to great art and children’s literature. Each week-long Summer Art Camp pairs a book with a work of art, and features discussions and art-making activities. Children and parents also visit the museum to view original works of art and create their own masterpieces in the museum’s studio, led by an MFAH teaching artist.

Exhibition Tour and Sponsorship

Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork is organized by The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. Generous funding in Houston is provided by Sotheby’s; Barbara and Michael Gamson; and Nina and Michael Zilkha.

Upcoming Exhibitions at the MFAH

  • Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland
    May 22–August 14, 2011
  • Helmut Newton: White WomenSleepless NightsBig Nudes
    July 3–September 25, 2011

MFAH Collections

Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the ten largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, library, theater, two art schools, and two house museums.The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH has some 63,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present.

Overcoat by Charles LeDray

Overcoat by Charles LeDray

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