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A Short Jaunt Through the Whitney's Meat & Bone Collection

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By Kisa Lala

Charles LeDray (b. 1960), Ring Finger, 2004. Ivory, gold, 1 x 5 1/8 x 1 inches (2.5 x 13 x 2.5 cm) Collection of Robin Wright and Ian Reeves. Photograph by Tom Powel. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater

"Charles LeDray (b. 1960), Ring Finger, 2004. Ivory, gold, 1 x 5 1/8 x 1 inches (2.5 x 13 x 2.5 cm) Collection of Robin Wright and Ian Reeves. Photograph by Tom Powel. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater"




Charles LeDray's works at the Whitney Museum are that of an obsessive-compulsive genius who has created a universe in the miniature. Inside a glass display are stacks of porcelain vases, 2000 of them, each individually shaped from a potter's wheel to replicate styles of pottery throughout history. The display (Milk and Honey) is mind-boggling not only in its sheer collective power but because they are all of diminutive scale and perfectly described in their miniaturized detail.

The most arresting artworks from the show are tiny sculptures - 'ivory' buttons, a strand of wheat (made to 1:1 scale) and a vertical column of stacked chairs, all of which appear captivating for their precision and virtuosity alone, until one realizes they are also made of human bone - the source of which the artist is apparently reluctant to divulge.

Charles LeDray, Cricket Cage, 2002. Human bone, 3 3/8 × 3 3/8 × 1 7/16 inches. Photograph by Tom Powel. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater
"Charles LeDray, Cricket Cage, 2002. Human bone, 3 3/8 × 3 3/8 × 1 7/16 inches. Photograph by Tom Powel. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater"

Photo by Peter Hujar, Paul Thek in the Palermo Catacombs, 1963 (reproduced from the original negative, 2010). © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
"Photo by Peter Hujar, Paul Thek in the Palermo Catacombs, 1963 (reproduced from the original negative, 2010). © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York"

Orrery (1997), which is a tiny mechanical Victorian representation of the known universe, displayed in a glass bell jar, shows the rotation of the planets in the solar system and symbolically connects the minute to the intangibly large. The caption has a quotation from Scott Carey, the character in Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), "So close, the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet like the closing of a gigantic circle."

His tailored doll-sized clothing designed around the stereotypes of masculinity (sports clothing, military and air force outfits, and security guard uniforms) are intentionally scaled down and has the effect of feminizing them, exposing the silks and stitching that make them vulnerable and toy-like, and play with notions of identity. It appears though that it is the artist's own sexuality that is at play here, and the artist makes many references to the role of gay men in society; twenty four hats at the entrance to the show "Village People," which references the band known for their camp alter-egos - addresses the uncertainty of gay identity. Additionally, LeDray used to display his miniature clothing and artifacts, like that of homeless buskers and street vendors on the pavements of Astor Place, in the East Village to emphasize labour as a basic need for survival.

Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), 1965, from the series Technological Reliquaries Wood, melamine laminate, metal, wax, paint, hair, and Plexiglas 19 × 12 × 8 ½ in. (48.3 × 30.5 × 21.6 cm) Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Judith Rothschild Foundation © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York © 2009 Museum Associates/LACMA/Art Resource, NY
"Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), 1965, from the series Technological Reliquaries Wood, melamine laminate, metal, wax, paint, hair, and Plexiglas 19 × 12 × 8 ½ in. (48.3 × 30.5 × 21.6 cm) Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Judith Rothschild Foundation © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York © 2009 Museum Associates/LACMA/Art Resource, NY"

Continuing on to more fleshy pieces, on a different floor at the Whitney, is an exhibition of Paul Thek's, work, the first room of which is a collection of the artist's 'meat pieces' from the 1960s, made while traveling with his lover, Peter Hujar in Sicily.

The title of the exhibition, "Diver," also refers to Paul Thek's serene sketches of divers, swimmers, surfers; painted in Yves Klein-blues, they offer another side to the artist's identity. Thek also worked in Paris with theater director Robert Wilson, who now administers Thek's estate. The artist died in 1988, at the age of 54, from AIDS. It is interesting that both these gay artists, generations apart, living and working at some point in the East Village, have had such different and diverse discourses relating to their physical and emotional connections to society - contributing a significant legacy to the history of New York art.

Charles LeDray (b.1960), Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, 1993. Fabric, wire, vinyl, silkscreen, zipper, 26 ¾ x 54 inches (67.9 × 137.2 cm) overall. Private Collection, Houston, TX. Photograph by Tom Powel. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater
"Charles LeDray (b.1960), Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, 1993. Fabric, wire, vinyl, silkscreen, zipper, 26 ¾ x 54 inches (67.9 × 137.2 cm) overall. Private Collection, Houston, TX. Photograph by Tom Powel. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater"

Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork November 18, 2010--February 13, 2011
Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective - October 21, 2010-January 9, 2011
The Whitney Museum, 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, New York City.

Text: By Kiša Lala