A Dada* movement painter, sculptor, film maker, and photographer, Man
Ray became one of America's most influential artists. He was based in
New York City.
He was born with the name of Emmanuel Radensky in
Philadelphia and was raised in New York City. He worked for an
engraving* firm and studied art briefly at the Ferrer School, founded in Manhattan in 1911 with a free-school curriculum, which was non-hierarchical and emphasized self reliance, personal development, socialism, free-thinking and non-conformity. In 1911, he began doing collage*,
which was some of the first non-objective* art work in this country. He
also explored Cubism*, being influenced by Max Weber who had been to
Paris and by exposure to talk at Alfred Stieglitz' Gallery 291*.
Stieglitz introduced him to photography, and he became a widely sought
after fashion photographer, earning his living in this way.
1915, he came under the influence of Marcel Duchamp and turned to
Dadaist methods including a collage self-portrait with electric bells
and a push button. He derived his forms from his own ideas, not from
nature. In 1919, he began using the airbrush*, and then created hanging
sculpture out of lamp shades.
He was a founder of the Societe
Anonyme* in 1920, which was the first American organization to promote
modern art. The next year, he went to Paris and stayed for 20 years,
and then lived in California until 1951. After that he returned to
Paris, which he considered to be his true home. There he participated
in Surrealist* and Dada exhibitions and was involved in the making of
four Surrealist films.
In May, 1999, ARTNews
featured him as
one of the top twenty-five most influential artists in the western
world because of "his exploration of film, painting, sculpture,
collage, assemblage, and prototypes of what would eventually be called
performance art* and conceptual art*". . .
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American ArtARTNews
, May, 1999
* For more in-depth
information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary
Man Ray was born in 1890, the son of Russian immigrants in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn. One of his earliest memories was of a dada-like act: pressing his childish hands onto the bright green wetness of freshly painted shutters. He was born with the name Emmanuel Radensky but was given the name Man Ray by his family when he was fifteen and wished to be known only by that name. He moved with his family to New York City where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and the Ferrer School, based on avant-garde curriculum, which emphasized free-thinking and non conformity. From that time on he was largely self-taught.
As a young man he haunted the modern art exhibits at the gallery run by Alfred Stieglitz, who also introduced him to photography. He became a widely sought-after fashion photographer, earning his living in this way. But Man Ray was determined to be a painter. His early influences were the Fauves* and then the Cubists, but the most enduring stamp on his work was Surrealism*.
From the start, the spirit of Man Ray's art collided with his life. Take the day in 1915 when he met Marcel Duchamp, at a cottage in Ridgefield, New Jersey. The two avant-garde artists didn't talk about art; they played tennis. Duchamp, fresh from France, could barely speak English. Man Ray, helpless in French, rummaged for two old racquets, and they played a game without a net - silent except for the small impish Man Ray calling the score and the tall elegant Duchamp answering simply "yes." It was an unmistakably dada tennis match, and it spawned a friendship that lasted fifty years. When Man Ray decided to move to Paris in 1921, Duchamp was there to greet him.
At first Ray took up photography to record his art, but photography often became the art. When he had trouble selling his paintings, he supported himself with fashion and portrait photography. He was a founder of the Societe Anonyme* in 1920; it was the first group in America to promote modern art. The next year he went to Paris and stayed for twenty years. He fled Paris before the Nazi occupation and then lived in Hollywood where he continued to work and teach until 1951. After that he returned to Paris, which he considered to be his true home. Photography took second place to painting for the rest of his career.
He met Juliet Browner when he moved to Los Angeles; they lived together for six years. In 1946 they were married in a double wedding ceremony with Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. They lived in Paris until Man Ray's death in 1976. Juliet was sixty-five at the time of his death; she had never dealt with day-to-day responsibilities; her eyesight was failing; and she had a weakness for whiskey. She was not well organized and tried to do everything herself. Works by Man Ray disappeared, and when legitimate sales occurred, Juliet kept no ledger of transactions or information about buyers. She was duped, swindled and conned by everyone who walked in. Juliet's four brothers, who knew nothing about Man Ray or his work, were appointed as trustees of the estate and after Juliet's death mishandled everything.
Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.
Laurie Attias in ARTnews, October 1998
Cathleen McGuigan in Newsweek, November 28, 1988
From the Internet, www.Artchive.com and www.AskART.com
"The Surreal Legacy of Man Ray" in ARTnews, June 2002
Man Ray (1890-1976)
Central to the development of Dada and Surrealism in the United States, Man Ray was the sole American artist to claim such a prominent role in both artistic movements. Producing paintings, photographs, collages, sculptures, and even avant-garde films, he consciously avoided easy classification, refusing to be recognized solely for his efforts in any one medium. Although this desire to resist stereotyping at first frustrated some scholars and critics, it is Man Ray's dedication to innovation that now defines his artistic legacy.
Showing a propensity for drawing and painting at an early age, and involving himself in artistic circles throughout his life, Man Ray adopted his pseudonym in 1909. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky on August 20, 1890, he was raised in Philadelphia by his Russian Jewish parents, who had only recently immigrated to the United States. He worked as an engraver and illustrator after graduating from high school in Brooklyn. From 1910 to 1912, he took life-drawing classes supervised by Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Francisco Ferrer Social Center. The following year he moved to Ridgefield, New Jersey, the site of an informal artists' colony. There he designed, illustrated and produced several small press pamphlets, such as the Ridgefield Gazook, published in 1915, and A Book of Divers Writings [sic].
A frequent visitor to Alfred Stieglitz's 291 gallery, Man Ray assimilated into his early work aspects of the European modernist art on view there. In the mid-1910s he introduced Cubist elements in his abstracted still lifes and landscapes, drawing on the geometric forms, compressed space, faceted planes of Analytic Cubism. In 1916 Man Ray met the poet and collector Walter Arensberg, and soon became a habitué of his salon, which included Marcel Duchamp and Jean Picabia, with whom Man Ray would collaborate on Rongwrong, an avant-garde journal. Together, Duchamp and Man Ray were the proponents of the short-lived New York Dada movement, central in calling into question the status of the object with "readymade" sculptures and promoting an irreverent, iconoclastic attitude. With Duchamp and patron Katherine Dreier, he was also a founding member of the Société anonyme, "a public, non-commercial center for the study and promotion of modern art." (3)
After being exposed to the work of the European avant-garde on view in New York, Man Ray decided to travel to Paris, a trip funded by the sale of several paintings to the industrialist Ferdinand Howald. He remained in Paris for twenty years, until the onset of World War II forced him to flee. In 1922 he developed the "rayograph," a method of producing images directly from objects on photosensitive paper similar to a photogram. Created by arranging recognizable objects in an apparently casual and arbitrary way, Man Ray's rayographs transformed ordinary objects into mysterious images—a sensibility appreciated by the artist's colleagues in Paris, who would collectively be known as Surrealists.
At first recognized as a portrait photographer, Man Ray captured his friends—such vanguard luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Georges Braque, James Joyce, and Jean Vanguard—and exhibited these works in at the opening of the café Boeuf sur le Toit. By 1923, Man Ray notes, "I was an established photographer." (4) Commercial success followed, and Man Ray became one of the foremost haute-couture fashion photographers, publishing in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar; his impulse was to "combine art and fashion," collapsing the boundaries between the two domains. (5) Yet the artist maintained his experimental, avant-garde roots, publishing a scandalous collection of pornographic photographs in 1929 and exhibiting as a member of the Surrealists in several shows in the 1930s, such as those at Julien Levy gallery in New York, the New Burlington Gallery, London, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, and the major group exhibitions "Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism," at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, "Exposition Internationale de Surréalisme" at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and "Surrealist Paintings, Drawings, Objects" at the London Gallery.
In addition to his participation in major group shows, during the 1920s and 1930s Man Ray also solidified his international reputation with numerous one-man exhibitions in the United States and in Europe. During this period Man Ray also continued to innovate, experimenting with the Sabattier, a solarization process that produced eerie photographic effects. By partially exposing his negatives to light, the artist created fantastic, dream-like images, ones that appeared to fuse the imaginary and the real. He used this solarization technique to great effect in his photographs of the female nude, producing poetic and mystical images of the nude that inspired his friends, artists Maurice Tabard and Raoul Tabac.
Beginning with the release of his first movie in 1923, Return to Reason, Man Ray also made substantial contributions to avant-garde film. He produced the first camera-less sequences of photographic images—"cine-rayographs"—developed by animating his rayographs. Throughout the 1920s he created such celebrated Surrealist films as Emak Bakia (1926), L'Etoile de mer (1928) and Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929), forming with his colleagues Hans Richter, Luis Bunuel, and Salvador Dali a new cinematic genre.
After a decade spent behind the camera, in the 1930s Man Ray returned to painting with a renewed vigor. Despite the high demand for his photographs, the painter explained, "it was inevitable that the continued contact with painters should keep smoldering in me my first passion—painting." (1) Living in Paris since 1921, he was a well-liked and influential participant in the avant-garde circle of artists and writers that counted Tristan Tzara, Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and André Breton as members. He also traveled frequently to the South of France, to such Riviera locales as Antibes.
Man Ray settled in Hollywood in 1941, where he turned his attention primarily to painting and producing objects for ten years, when he returned to Paris. In 1961 Man Ray was awarded the gold medal in photography at the Venice Biennale, and in 1966 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art organized the first comprehensive retrospective of his work in the United States. Subsequently, a series of major retrospectives tour Europe, traveling to Milan, Rotterdam, Denmark, and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. Man Ray died in Paris on November 18, 1976.
1. Marina Vanci-Perahim, ed., Man Ray (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998), 56.
2. Man Ray, 1890-1976 (Ghent, Ludion Press, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 11.
3. Vanci-Perahim, ed. Man Ray, 8.
4. Man Ray, 1890-1976, 318.
5. Vanci-Perahim, ed., Man Ray, 53.