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ART REVIEW

Exquisite Miniatures of Sizable Seduction

June 22, 1996|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tampering with scale is a long-standing Modernist trope. Usually it works one way, with forms sprouting mammoth proportions, Richard Serra- or Rachel Whiteread-style.

Tiny things, by contrast, are too easily mistaken for trivial ones, too often lumped in with no-nos like sentiment. And when those things are meticulously crafted to boot, they are frequently read as hysterical symptoms.

At Richard Telles Fine Art, Charles LeDray takes all this on without a moment's hesitation. And in the way a dollhouse seduces not by virtue of its cuteness, but in terms of its panoply of perfectly distilled settings for out-of-body experiences, so too do LeDray's exquisite miniatures seduce.

Here is a tiny bed, made of bone, and a huge glass case filled with hundreds of little ceramic forms, all in white, and every one slightly different: teapots, plates, ashtrays, bowls, etc.

And here, trimming the edges of a massive spill of gray silk, are tiny bits of clothing--flowered housedresses, crotchless leather pants, checkered car coats--dangling sideways or turned upside down, as if the funky Kens and Barbies for which they might have been designed were at wit's end.

No doubt there is melancholy here (the latter piece is called "Pride Flag") and a strong appeal to memory. But there is also a celebration of industriousness, not precisely in terms of its healing powers but in terms of its necessity and total obviousness.

To make things as LeDray does--by hand, down to the very last button--is quite logical. Nonetheless, it seems perverse, especially when shortcuts would do. LeDray doesn't fight against this paradox; rather, he sinks into it so deeply that at the very least, you have to admire his moxie.

* Richard Telles Fine Art, 7380 Beverly Blvd., (213) 965-5578, through July 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Mysterious Tack: "Plot," the new installation by Shelby Roberts at LACE, exudes drama, mostly because of the blue rowboat parked smack in the middle of the gallery. Real-world things that make their way into art are usually more manageably sized.

The daunting proportions of this real-world thing are impressive in and of themselves. What you want to do is climb aboard--not to experience what Roberts has painstakingly built from scratch, but so you can go someplace else.

As far as transportation goes, rowboats are pretty unreliable. As far as metaphors go, they're remarkably efficient: Think leisure, nostalgia, romance, inspiration, perspiration, escape.

Roberts pushes the metaphorical tack by virtue of four photographs hanging on the wall. They depict, in no particular order, a window in a do-it-yourself hardware store, a plot of palm trees out in the desert, a snow-covered street in what appears to be a desolate suburb and a flooded trailer yard.

These are meticulously observed, beautiful and crisp. But they are clearly designed to signify other places, other moods--lost paradises and interrupted dreams--and the enforced metaphors are limiting. The images don't want to stand in for one thing or another; they want to tell far more complicated stories.

Here, then, are a series of mysteries. What about the word "Paris" spelled out in the store window in pipes and fittings? And the tiny sign, "Donna, please come home," near the traffic light? The lone trailer and the too-blue water?

Ironically, the presence of the boat serves to short-circuit the narratives and, more important, to conceal the fact that what Roberts is is a very good photographer.

* LACE, 6522 Hollywood Blvd., (213) 957-1777, through July 21. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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