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Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention

November 15, 2009 - March 14, 2010

Man Ray, La foret doree de Man RayMan Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky)
La fôret dorée de Man Ray, 1950
Oil and gold leaf on panel
67 x 70 3/4 in. (170 x 180 cm)
Collection of Peter and Renate Nahum
© 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Man Ray returned to Paris with his wife Juliet in 1951, alienated from the contemporary art world and unconcerned that the epicenter of the avant-garde had shifted from Paris to New York. It was fitting that the artist, ever the outsider, would go against the grain and return to the city where he felt most comfortable, to work according to his own rules and tastes. In his new studio on rue Férou, he surrounded himself with his Surrealist “objects of affection”—such as Table for Two, Non-Euclidian Object I, and Smoking Device—whose number grew from his constant visits to the flea market, populating his environment as if they were his offspring.

The artist’s wistfulness and anxiety about being forgotten surfaced in many ways, including the writing of his memoir, Self Portrait (1963). Toward the end of his life, he returned to his youthful mechanical drawings, continuing the ceaseless transformations of earlier paintings into lithographs, and unique objects into multiples. While the title Unconcerned But Not Indifferent would become Man Ray’s epitaph, summing up his feelings about critics whom he felt misunderstood his work, what lends this collage its poignancy is its reprise of the artist’s preoccupation with shadows.

As Man Ray’s career began to falter in California and, later, in Paris, the problem of being out of sync with the art world became more pressing, and the leitmotif of the shadow assumed a new gravity. This is apparent in the screen La forêt dorée de Man Ray, an allegory of the artist’s need to obscure himself, and the elegiac La rue Férou, which pictures the rag picker of Man Ray’s youth burdened by the now-larger-than-life figure of The Enigma at the doorstep of his final studio.

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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