In 2010, LeDray’s major retrospective, workworkworkwork, originated at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and went on to the Whitney Museum of American Art. But Steven Holmes, adjunct curator of art at the Bass, has chosen only four art works for Charles LeDray: Bass Museum of Art, a circumstance that gives an added punch – and breathing room — to the exhibition in the upstairs galleries.
The show begins with Wheat, 2000, a recreation of a wheat stalk, made of human bone and reverently set in a display case. To the left is Jewelry Window, 2002, a group of handcrafted jewelry-display busts, sans jewelry, neatly arrayed in a lighted glass case in a darkened hallway.
Around the corner is Cricket Cage, 2002, an exquisite cage made of human bone. This 17-inch tall piece is the prelude to the spooky Men’s Suits. Each of the three installations that make up Men’s Suits is framed by a square of ballad-of-the-sad-thrift-store linoleum on the floor and an overhanging bank of florescent lights hung about five feet above. The bleak overhead lighting makes each piece look like it’s being interrogated.
The first installation consists of racks of men’s clothes — Hawaiian shirts, multi-colored polos in glossy fabrics — rendered in sizes that would suit a baby. (The glass tops of all the clothing racks are dirty and sad, just like real thrift stores.)
The second installation, also set between grim linoleum and florescent lights, consists of an assortment of tacky ties, fanned out on a round table, and a tiny suit jacket draped on a chopped-down tailor’s dummy.
The final tableau is the largest and saddest in the show: clothes hung next to empty hangers, draped on ladders and ironing boards and stuffed into bags.
Men’s Suits is a meditation on mortality, waste, dreams that are dashed amid the grand hopefulness of buying new clothes, and a million other longings in this short-order world. This is what contemporary art should be, a kind of melancholic poetry that lingers long after the show is over.