Lives Revealed

Charles LeDray's small-scale objects tell stories at MFAH.

LeDray is a master storyteller who uses his eye for visual detail to craft rich tales. Men's Suits is so perfectly detailed and convincing, we know the hangdog feel and the smell of the place. But while we immediately recognize it, I doubt any of us could stage it ourselves. And the thing is, this installation isn't just a depressing scene of a rundown building filled with unwanted and unattractive crap. There is the whiff of something deeply unsettling here — it's faint, but it's there. It's almost as if it's the scene of a crime, and a serial killer or a child molester volunteers at the thrift store on the weekends. Underneath the superficial grimness of Men's Suits, there lies something really and truly grim.

This uneasy undercurrent runs through all of LeDray's work to one degree or another — his sculpture of a cluster of flip-flops hanging on a string reminded me of a Colonel Kurtz ear necklace — but it's probably most up-front in his tiny sculptures made from human bone. (Human bone is available from osteological supply houses, but LeDray isn't really working in it anymore. There has been a lot of controversy about some human bone sources, which has apparently included grave robbing.)

If you think sewing all those little clothes yourself is involved, carving bone is even worse. It takes forever. The natural colors of the 130 buttons crafted from human bone for Buttons (2000-01) are as varied as the sizes, styles and ornamentation of the buttons themselves. Ornate Victorian, deco and even carrot-shaped, the buttons read as a cast of highly varied characters. In spite of their macabre material, there is something sort of pure and poignant about the bone works. They don't hide their origins. Orrery (1994) is an approximately five-inch-high sculpture of a solar system model. It's our little neck of the galaxy, impeccably carved from one of our bones.

The artist makes small-scale versions of old clothes, hats, shoes and underwear.
Courtesy of MFAH
The artist makes small-scale versions of old clothes, hats, shoes and underwear.

Location Info


Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

1001 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

Category: Museums

Region: Kirby-West U


"Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork"

Through September 11.

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

LeDray is a fascinating and complicated artist. And while "Workworkworkworkwork" offers an immediate payoff in terms of amazing craftsmanship, this is the kind of show that bears multiple visits. No matter how much time you spend with it, there is still more to uncover.

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