Friday, December 4, 2009

The Invention and Reinvention of Man Ray: "All New York Is Dada"


Above, Man Ray in a "Rayograph" Self Portrait. The current "Alias Man Ray" show at the Jewish Museum explores Man Ray's life, work, and the millieu in which he fabricated his identity as an artist and perenniel outsider.


Salvador Dali, left, and Ray in Paris in a photo by Carl Van Vechten, June 16, 1934.

Man Ray in a letter to Tristan Tzara: "Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is dada, and will not tolerate a rival.”

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) was an American born painter, sculptor, photographer and dadaist (August 27, 1890 – November 18, 1976). He spent most of his career in Paris, France. Perhaps best described simply as a modernist, he was a significant contributor to both the Dada and Surrealist movements, although his ties to each were informal. Best known in the art world for his avant-garde photography, Man Ray produced major works in a variety of media and considered himself a painter above all. He was also a renowned fashion and portrait photographer. He is noted for his photograms, which he renamed "rayographs" after himself.

While appreciation for Man Ray's work beyond his fashion and portrait photography was slow in coming during his lifetime, especially in his native United States, his reputation has grown steadily in the decades since.

The current "Alias Man Ray" show at the Jewish Museum explores Man Ray's life, work, and the millieu in which he fabricated his identity as an artist and perenniel outsider. In 1999, ARTnews magazine named him one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century, citing his groundbreaking photography as well as "his explorations of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage, and prototypes of what would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art" and saying "Man Ray offered artists in all media an example of a creative intelligence that, in its 'pursuit of pleasure and liberty,'"—Man Ray's stated guiding principles—"unlocked every door it came to and walked freely where it would."[

From Wikipedia: From the time he began attracting attention as an artist until his death more than sixty years later, Man Ray allowed little of his early life or family background to be known to the public, even refusing to acknowledge that he ever had a name other than Man Ray.

Man Ray was born Emmanuel Radnitzky in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1890, the eldest child of recent Russian-Jewish immigrants. The family would eventually include another son and two daughters, the youngest born shortly after they settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, in 1897. In early 1912, the Radnitzky family changed their surname to Ray, a name selected by Man Ray's brother, in reaction to the ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism prevalent at that time. Emmanuel, who was called "Manny" as a nickname, changed his first name to Man at this time, and gradually began to use Man Ray as his combined single name.

Man Ray's father was a garment factory worker who also ran a small tailoring business out of the family home, enlisting his children from an early age. Man Ray's mother enjoyed making the family's clothes from her own designs and inventing patchwork items from scraps of fabric.Despite Man Ray's desire to disassociate himself from his family background, this experience left an enduring mark on his art. Tailor's dummies, flat irons, sewing machines, needles, pins, threads, swatches of fabric, and other items related to clothing and sewing appear at every stage of his work and in almost every medium. Art historians have also noted similarity in his collage and painting techniques to those used in making clothing.


More on Man Ray here.

The excellent exhibit at the Jewish Museum here.

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