The Works of Charles Ray Between Realism and Paradox

Charles Ray | ritratto

Charles Ray


Realism and paradox are the two elements that characterise Charles Ray’s works.
In his sculptures, human figures and objects are represented in a realistic and almost detached way, but the more you look at them, the more something seems strange: the size, the material, the realism.

In Charles Ray’s work it is as if reality is celebrated and at the same time questioned.

works by Charles Ray


Starting in the 1990s, Charles Ray began to work on the human figure, making sculptures that mix craftsmanship with technology.

The works are spectacular and of great impact, created with a refined technique and a search for perfection that recalls the great tradition of sculpture of past centuries.

Family romance (1993)

In 1992, Charles Ray produced ‘Fall ’91’, giant mannequins with a female figure that reached two and a half metres in height. In 1993, he presented “Family Romance” in which he showed a family consisting of a mother, father and two children, but where the dimensions did not add up because they were all the same height, as if the parents were too small or the children too big.

Charles Ray | Family romance

Charles Ray, Family romance

The relationship between reality and self-perception, mixed with a sense of unease, make “Family Romance” a fundamental work for understanding the artist’s work, in which apparently normal situations are the pretext for a broader reflection.

Puzzle bottle (1995)

In 1995, Charles Ray created ‘Puzzle bottle’, where large dimensions gave way to miniaturisation and he created a sculpture small enough to fit in a bottle.

Charles Ray | Puzzle Bottle

Charles Ray, Puzzle Bottle

In this, as in other works by Charles Ray, it is the size that disorients the observer but also raises questions about the technique of execution.
In fact, Charles Ray
often works by creating casts and then commissioning reproductions from artisans in a work that takes an extremely long time and involves long reflection and rethinking.

Boy with frog (2009)

Among Charles Ray’s works of art, there is no shortage of scandalous ones, such as “Boy with frog” of 2009.
The sculpture was exhibited in Venice, in front of Punta della Dogana, from 2009 to 2013, but its permanent exhibition was challenged by the City Council, which did not renew the permit for its permanence outdoors.
The work, made of fibreglass, is enormous and shows a boy holding a frog. It is
reminiscent of Donatello’s David holding Goliath’s head but also of Apollo Sauroktons.

Charles Ray | Boy with frog

Charles Ray, Boy with frog

“Charles Ray’s ‘Boy with frog’ immediately became a must-see for anyone visiting Venice, but the city’s administration did not think it appropriate for it to be placed there, right in front of the Grand Canal, forever, preferring to insert a nineteenth-century style lamppost.

Shoe tie (2012)

One of the works that gives us the most insight into the importance of the process of revisiting the canons of sculpture in Charles Rays work is Shoe Tie from 2012.
The figure of a crouching boy immediately calls to mind the classic subject of the “spinario” but, in this case, the boy is tying his shoe.
In addition, the sculpture is made of stainless steel and not classic marble.

Charles Ray | Shoe Tie

Charles Ray, Shoe Tie

In Charles Ray’s artistic production there are many works like this one, which recall classical statuary but have contemporary characters as protagonists.
These are the works of the ‘everyday classical’ genre.


  • Read Charles Ray: Sculpture 1997-2014.
  • follow the artist’s work through the official website
  • visit the next Charles Ray exhibition. Right now I recommend the double exhibition in Paris: the first at the Bourse de Commerce from 16 February to 6 June 2022; the second at the Centre Pompidou from 16 February to 20 June 2022.
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