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Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention

November 15, 2009 - March 14, 2010


It's a traditional retrospective
with an irresistible biographical
hook, one that is both old-
fashioned (dust off your Freud)
and up to the minute
(identity is fluid).

The New York Times

The quintessential modernist, Man Ray recast the concept of artistic identity, working as a painter, photographer, sculptor, printmaker, filmmaker, poet, and essayist. He perpetually tinkered with material at hand, putting to ingenious use the practical skills learned in a variety of jobs, from advertising to mapmaking to engraving. Man Ray airbrushed paintings to make them look like photographs and exposed objects on light-sensitive paper to create cameraless “rayographs.” He met the demand for originality in the world of fashion by creating a hybrid of Surrealism and high style, and even became a celebrity himself as a portrait photographer—indeed, his fame as a photographer overshadowed his accomplishments as a painter. A conflicted identity, however, was central to an artist who yearned to escape the limitations of his Russian Jewish immigrant past.

For Man Ray, a sense of otherness was deeply connected to the problem of assimilation—the wish for both “notoriety” and “oblivion”—and hence “the desire to become a tree en espalier,” a tree trained to grow into a vine that becomes entwined with others, its origins disguised. The artist’s self-consciousness was an outgrowth of his time, a period that witnessed the rise of nation-state identity and xenophobia, and an unprecedented wave of immigration, class consciousness, and anti-Semitism. His life and work powerfully reflect his contradictory need to obscure and declare himself.

Formative Years >
Man Ray Self-Portrait

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Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky)
Untitled (Self-Portrait with Camera), 1930, printed c. 1935

Watch video >
Curator Mason Klein speaks about Man Ray and the Alias Man Ray exhibition for SundayArts Choice (1/2010)

Listen/download >
Lecture: Curator Mason Klein (12/3/2009)

The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows by Man RayMan Ray
The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows, 1915–16
Oil on canvas
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of G. David Thompson, 1954
© 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Le violin d'Ingres by Man RayMan Ray
Le violon d'Ingres, 1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs Collection
© 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention is made possible by generous grants from S. Donald Sussman and the David Berg Foundation. Major funding was also provided by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, the Leon Levy Foundation, Ellen S. Flamm, and the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund. Additional support was provided by the Neubauer Family Foundation Exhibition Fund and other donors.

NEAThe exhibition is sponsored by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation.

The catalogue is funded through the Dorot Foundation publications endowment.