Man Ray

Every genius, painter, writer, CEO and more or less important and productive individual has their assistants and colleagues to lean on. Some of them make a name for themselves while others labor beneath the limelight. During the dadaist and into the surrealist periods, the Greats had their sidekicks. Picasso and Braque, Paul Klee and Kandinsky and infinite others. Among one of the more enticing relationships between two artists of that period was that of Marcel Duchamp and Emanuel Rabinovitch, aka Man Ray. He would become synonymous with avant-guarde. Of his many artistic hats, the most fitting was that of an inventor. The magnetism between he and Duchamp proved to mark a revolutionary artistic period.

A prominent member of the social and experimental groups of artists throughout New York and Paris beginning in the early 20s, Man Ray was a visual recorder and pioneer for launching what would later become famous works of the dadaist and surrealist periods. Closest to Duchamp, Man Ray catalogued various projects including The Fountain and Object to be Destoyed. He played a pivotal role in film experiments, delving into the mystery of light, lens, reflection and color wherein he used technology as a canvas for exploring non-sequitur themes and reinforcing a boundless imagination. Le Retour à la Raison and Les Mystères du Château de Dé , Emak-Bakia (16 mins, 1926) and L’Étoile de Mer (15 mins, 1928) showcase his experimental techniques and are projected throughout the exhibit.

Man Ray was able to organically lace material with the human spirit guided by the lust and eroticism of a vaudeville Paris and a vagabond New York. At a time when electricity was expanding, the early twentieth century lit a path unexplored until Man Ray, who progressed photography with the use of solarized imagery – a halo effect achieved by flickering the lights in a darkroom during the negative development process – and rayographs, an x-ray effect created by placing images on light-sensitive paper in a lighted room. As every photographer needs a subject, thus after rounds of objects were tested in his lighting experiments, Man Ray moved to the human subject utilizing his circle of comrades who were often developing their own works of art, capturing them utterly candid, unpolished and often in their mindsets at the depths of the dadaist movement. This is where viewers can be dazzled not only by the profound progression in photography but also the grandeur of feasting eyes upon a studio portrait of a Pablo Picasso or Joan Miró expressionless, as if awaiting the flash. Other subjects included Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Francic Picabia, Gertude Stein, James Joyce, and the famous performer, Kiki of Montparnasse, one of Man Ray’s lovers and muse.

His collection of material, some in its most raw state and unabridged, ranges from original photographs to verbal and written exchanges and video footage. One can pick up the influences of his company in Noire et Blanche, with elements of cubism and flavors of Picasso, as well as Perpetual Motif and Cadeau, exuding flavors of Duchamp. With an emphasis on technology and experimentation with subjects, his collection leaves an almost unemotional impression on the viewer.  Gazing at the cherub skin of lavish nudes and devious eyes of night lounging debutantes, sensual evocation is rich though his imagery forces us to see technique. Many images stare back at the viewer asking, “what about this one?” as if some turned out better than others, but each awaiting a passing approval. Works such as The Tears (Les demux jeux, le nez et les larmes), Dall’album Models, and Violon d’Ingres, though erotic they flaunt a distinct oxymoronic balance of technical demonstration. You want to recognize the sorrow in the tears but the reality of their imposed placement robs the viewer of instinctual emotion. This ability to challenge the viewer’s sense of reality was at the forefront of dadaism along with the motive to provoke irrationality and unconventional thinking.

Man Ray lived to be 86 (born 1890) and left a lasting impression on creatives from writers to painters to filmographers. He was a character who worked and lived partially under the radar but had the capacity and endurance to create and provoke imagination among some of the most influential artists of his time. He is most significantly remembered for his collaboration with Duchamp as well as his innovative experiments with lighting and the lens. Fortunately his collections were preserved and now reside mostly under the property of the May Ray Trust  as well as Fondazione Marconi among other prominent collectors. For more information on his upcoming and past exhibitions visit

About Angela Gleason

visual designer | writer | pianist in the basement | painter in the night | fashion critic | lush | Italian savant check me out: