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Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention

November 15, 2009 - March 14, 2010

Man Ray Le violin d'IngresMan Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky)
Le violon d’Ingres, 1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
19 x 14 1/2 in. (48.3 x 37.6 cm)
Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs Collection
© 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

In 1921, Man Ray moved to Paris where he would remain for the next twenty years. There, unfettered by his past, he reinvented himself as the odd man out, the only American within a largely Parisian avant-garde. Welcomed by the Dadaists 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. His portraits of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein, among others, hung on the walls of the legendary bookshop Shakespeare and Company, whose owner Sylvia Beach once wrote, “To be done by Man Ray means that you were rated as somebody.” Notably, some of his paintings began to emulate photography, a blurring of media that echoed his ongoing need to disrupt categorical thinking.

Photography was admired by the Surrealists for its “automatic” qualities and apparent freedom from artistic intent. Yet it was precisely through manipulation of the mechanical process that Man Ray declared his presence. Experimenting with techniques such as cropping, multiple exposure, solarization, and the cameraless rayograph, he demonstrated how transformable any person, object or artistic medium could be. Man Ray described himself as one who “so deforms the subject as almost to hide the identity of the original, and creates a new form.” Liberating his subjects—a contorted neck, the contours of a spring, a nude stripped of context—from fixed reality, Man Ray pushed them to the brink of metamorphosis. Likewise, in his many self-portraits made in Paris, the artist experimented with his identity as malleable and elusive.

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The audio component is produced by The Jewish Museum in association with Acoustiguide and includes critical commentary by curator Mason Klein; Neil Baldwin, author of Man Ray: American Artist; and Man Ray scholar Merry Foresta.

Audio guides made possible by Bloomberg