Art History 101

The Legacy of Man Ray

An original is a creation motivated by desire…To create is divine, to reproduce is human.  – Man Ray

Man Ray in Paris via Wikipedia

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia to Russian Jewish immigrants, Man Ray was a pivotal figure who helped shape the Surrealist movements in Paris and New York. He showed artistic talent at a young age and trained to be a commercial painter until being exposed to European contemporary art at the legendary 1913 Armory Show, which displayed cubist works by Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso. and Georges Braque, in addition to his frequent visits to Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291. In the early 1920s, he relocated to Paris where he interacted with Surrealist luminaries such as André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and Gertrude Stein. It was then when he developed his unique photographic manipulation methods and produced dream-like tableaus which complimented the ideas espoused by his contemporaries. 

Kiki de Montparnasse in one of Man Ray’s most famous portraits. Noir et Blanche (1926) by Man Ray via WikiArt

Man Ray had a number of famous muses who starred in his work. American model Lee Miller, for example, had initially wanted to be Man Ray’s apprentice but ended up being his collaborator, lover, and muse. She wasn’t the only one though, as Man Ray had notoriously mingled with other lovers including the art world darling Kiki de Montparnasse (pictured above).

“Rayograph,” by Man Ray via The Met

Man Ray took his experimentation with photography beyond the lens with his eponymous “Rayographs” which were essentially photograms. These are produced by placing objects on photosensitive paper in a dark room and then exposing them to light.

“The Gift,” by Man Ray via WikiArt

Man Ray also created sculptural works called “readymades” in the same manner as Marcel Duchamp. In general, these were sculptures made up of ordinary objects with no specific purpose or functionality. The readymade pictured above was allegedly made after a long evening of drinks with French composer Erik Satie. He has replicated it a number of times throughout his career and is one of his most sought-after collectible works.

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