Charles LeDray
Seattle Art Museum, 654-3100.

Through July 27.

The more I look at art, the more I suspect that what draws me in is entirely beside the point. The hook, as it were, for Charles LeDray's work is that much of it is made in meticulous miniature, which raises a multitude of questions about how it's made: How did he throw 2,000 porcelain pots, none of them much bigger than an inch, no wider than a knitting needle? These tiny pots work powerfully against every pottery cliché: the beefy, slam-a-lump-of-clay-around machismo is undone by the tininess; the earth-mothery calm acceptance of everything undone by the obsessive-seeming repetition.

And yet the work, made between 1989 and 2002, in this traveling exhibition is not about undoing, but doing, or more specifically about making, and within this productive realm LeDray flirts with a number of what could broadly be called themes: the miniature, the multiple, sewn objects, objects made from unusual materials. In the last case, there are objects carved out of human bone: a stalk of wheat, buttons, a tiny door, a tiny washstand, a tiny model of the universe (or, I guess, a tinier model of the universe; all models of the universe are by definition reduced). And what it adds up to, while elusive, is a sense of being off-kilter, of proportions gone awry, of instability among familiar-seeming things.

It also feels distinctly sad. Many of the pieces--and specifically the scaled-down clothing, so that a Seattle Art Museum guard uniform looks like a prep-school uniform for an exceptionally small first grader--imply human presence without providing human presence; this adds up to absence. In workworkworkworkwork, an inventory of nearly 600 objects that re-creates, in miniature, the way that homeless people in New York used to display and sell their belongings on the street, a portrait of the objects' owners emerges, and it's a sadly anonymous one (defining oneself through exterior objects only works at certain economic levels). LeDray focuses not only on the meticulous making, but every stain and tear and lost shoelace, all the sad tracks of use. It brings to mind--in spirit, if not in execution--Mike Kelley's assemblages of tatty found objects: the homemade stuffed animal, the crocheted afghan. Both LeDray and Kelley direct our attention to the gray area in which we project feelings onto inanimate objects, so that all their work (no matter how personal to the artist, or to whoever once owned it) becomes about the viewer's own tendencies to indulge in maudlin reflection.

LeDray's tiny suits also bring to mind Beverly Semmes' enormous and dowdy dresses, which evoke the past looming unreasonably large, all out of proportion to actuality, but perhaps accurately in some emotional sense. LeDray's past seems to be populated instead by a growing inventory of tiny specifics--in some cases irrevocably but illogically linked, in some cases lonely and marooned (which is emphasized by much of the exhibit's installation: A single tiny suit hung alone on an empty wall). The unreliability of the past is everywhere implied: a suit and shirt and tie hung neatly on a hanger, but cut off right below the shoulder, perhaps forgotten or disposed of or suppressed. Another suit is shredded into tatters that suggest, again, in the absence of a body, human innards, the present cannibalizing the past, Dorian Gray as a jacket, shirt, and tie.

Separated from the rest of the show, in a dark room hidden behind another room, is an assemblage of jewelry-store display models, empty of jewelry, in a dark window lit dimly from behind. This dim, suggestive landscape--which, with the curves inherent to jewelry display, resembles art-deco Gotham, or else an empty stage on which some kind of Busby Berkeley spectacular has taken place--has a feel of distinct trepidation, a theatrical romantic quality, as of empty streets and longing, again of a missing presence. But what's missing here is not a person (although human presence is evoked through the display shapes, the curve of a neck, a pair of ears), but another set of objects (the jewelry), and here I'll indulge in a bit of sentimental projection: Objects, too, have memories.