Jill Krementz Photo Journal - Alias Man Ray

Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention
The Jewish Museum
November 15th, 2009-March 14th, 2010


If you have ever wondered where Man Ray got his name, consider the name with which he was born: Emmanuel Radnitzky.

Man Ray (1890-1976) was one of the most versatile artists of the 20th century. He was probably, to his regret, recognized more for his photographs, and in particular for his rayographs, than for his drawings, paintings, prints, sculptures, “objets,” poetry and films. Throughout his career, Man Ray revealed multiple personalities ranging from Dadaist to Parisian Surrealist. What he rarely revealed was that he was born Emmanuel Radnitzky to Russian Jewish immigrants.

The Jewish Museum has mounted a major exhibition of over 200 works which surveys the astonishing range and brilliance of this ever-evolving artist. Organized by Mason Klein, one of the curators at the museum, this show and the accompanying catalogue provide us with a new prism through which we can better appreciate the diverse and imaginative work of Man Ray. It is a life well worth revisiting.
Joan Rosenbaum, Director of The Jewish Museum.
This splendid Man Ray exhibition has been organized by Mason Klein, Curator at the Jewish Museum. He is standing in front of The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows, 1915-16.
Oil on canvas.
Self-Portrait, 1914. Ink on paper. Attributed to Alfred Stieglitz, Portrait of Man Ray, c. 1915. This rare portrait of the young artist is presumed to have been taken by Alfred Stieglitz in his "291" gallery, where Man Ray first became familiar with the Europen avant-garde. In catching the young artist faintly ill at ease, inclined outside the picture frame, and slightly out of focus, Stieglitz reveals his subject's youthful timidity.
Radnitzy family portrait (Emmanuel with his mother, father, and sister Dora).
Philadelphia, 1896.
Emmanuel Radnitzy's bar mitzvah portrait.
Brooklyn, 1903.
A.D. 1914 (War), 1914. Named for the outbreak of World War I, the painting is one of the few explicitly political works in Man Ray's oevre. The automaton soldiers and the crumpled, trod-upon figure in the lower right attest to Man Ray's anti-war stance.
Obstruction, 1920/1964. 63 wooden coat hangers.
This is one of the first suspended sculptures of the twentieth century, made a decade before Marcel Duchamp would coin the word "mobile" to describe the works of Alexander Calder. The symbolism of such a piece, which resembles a family tree, given its mathematical progression, is undeniable for someone whose family became a virtual obstruction in his life.
Noire et Blanche, 1926. In 1921, Man Ray moved to Paris where he would remain for the next twenty years. Welcomed by the Dadists upon arrival, and later embraced by the Surrealist movement, he never fully aligned himself with either group. Unable to make a living as a painter, Man Ray began taking pictures for dress designer Paul Poiret, and soon made his name as a portraitist and fashion photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair.
According to Man Ray, he discovered the rayograph process accidentally while developing prints for fashion designer Paul Poiret. After inadvertently turning on a light in the darkroom, Man Ray "mechanically" placed several objects on a sheet of paper in the developing tray and watched as shadowy forms appeared.

Everyday objects were rendered mysterious and ambiguous in form. By dispensing with the camera, the rayograph's relationship with its subjects was more direct than in traditional photography.

Man Ray wrote, "these images are oxidized residues, fixed by light and chemical elements, of living organisms." The rayograph could not have been a more appropriate symbolic process for Man Ray -- it seems to have the penetrating gaze of an X-ray, but it reveals only an exterior, conferring mystery on an impenetrable core.
Prints from the portfolio Électricité, 1931. In 1931 Man Ray was commissioned by the Parisian electric company CPDE to create a photographic portfolio that would promote and celebrate the domestic use of electricity by the average consumer.
Gertrude Stein and Picasso's Portrait, 1922. Jean Cocteau, Sculpting His Own Head in Wire, c. 1925.
Proust on his deathbed, 1922.
Spider Woman, c. 1950. Image á deux faces, 1959. During Man Ray's residence in Hollywood, he began to introduce the sensationalism of popular billboard advertising into his work. Here he merged the larger-than-life scale of the movies with the intimacy of a painting.
Douglas Kelley, who writes the DKS show list.
La Fortune, 1938. The primary-colored cumulus storm clouds, their forms unsettlingly similar and evenly dispersed in the sky, suggest how Man Ray felt the political climate in Europe was inexorably changing. The massive billiards table, which dominates the foreground like a military tank, barges into the sky beyond the horizon. The table is a symbol of a dreaded, unforeseeable fate, and the perspective is such that one cannot tell whether it is inclined upward or downward -- leaving the outcome of the game up in the air.
Untitled (Mask), 1955. Portrait imaginaire de D. A. F.deSade (Imaginary Portrait of the Marquis de Sade), 1938.
La Main, 1944.
Pencil and ink on paper.
Le rebus, 1938. As Fascism spread throughout Europe, Man Ray painted this nightmarish scene, dramatizing his sense of being oppressed by external forces.
Be sure to watch the short film of excerpts from Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde, a 1997 American Masters production, which is on view at the exhibition.
Message to Marcia, 1958-65. Man Ray created his series of Natural Paintings by applying paint heavily to a board or panel, placing a second panel on top, and then squeezing the two together, often by sitting on them. When separated, the resulting paintings were mirror images of each other (Message to Marcia is an exception, having been mounted in a different configuration).
Main Ray, 1971.
Ce qui manqué à tous (What We All Lack), 1971-72. Clay pipe with glass bubble.
Shadows, 1971. Unconcerned But Not Indifferent, c. 1970.
End Game, 1942. The attachment of Duchamp and Man Ray to chess is well known. Duchamp went so far as to "retire" from art to pursue the game more seriously, and for decades Man Ray would design and oversee the production of various chess sets. The symbolism of the game was pervasive in Man Ray's work, as in the contest between manikins in End Game with its subtext of loss.
Solarized Nude, 1931.
Lee Miller's Eye, 1932. Lee Miller was Man Ray's model and mistress before she eventually became a well-known photographer.
Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Lee ..., 1932. Page of notebook inscribed by Man Ray. Indestructible Object, 1923/65. When Lee Miller left Man Ray, he was furious. Unable to control her, he displaced his rage by obsessively defacing and fragmenting her image.
Nude, 1912. Tapestry, 1911.
Critic David D'Arcy, who writes for Art & Auction and for Art Newspaper, stands next to Madonna, 1914.
Anne Scher, Director of Communications at The Jewish Museum. Cadeau (Gift), 1963. Replica of lost 1921 original. Cast iron. Brass tacks.
Man Ray display in The Cooper Shop at The Jewish Museum.
Rebecca Rozen.
Wall calendar and book about Lee Miller on sale at the bookstore.
Fotofolio postcards on sale.
John Zeaman, art critic for the North Jersey dailies, The Record and The Star-Ledger, in front of The Jewish Museum.
Anyone who creates art is a sacred person. He cannot do any harm. -- Man Ray.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.