Man Ray

Object to be destroyed

Man Ray (1890 – 1976), born Emmanuel Radnitzky, was an American artist who 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 (images made without a camera by placing objects directly onto photographic paper, which he renamed ‘rayographs’ after himself.

Man Ray’s father was a garment factory worker and tailor, whose vocation would leave an enduring mark on his Man Ray’s 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.

Early in his career Ray abandoned conventional painting, and involved himself with Dada, a radical anti-art movement. He started making objects, and developed unique mechanical and photographic methods of making images. In 1920 he helped Marcel Duchamp make his first machine and one of the earliest examples of kinetic art, the ‘Rotary Glass Plates.’ That same year Man Ray, Katherine Dreier and Duchamp founded the Société Anonyme, an itinerant collection which in effect was the first museum of modern art in the U.S.

With Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso, Man Ray was represented in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. Works from this period include a metronome with an eye, originally titled ‘Object to Be Destroyed.’ Another important work from this part of Man Ray’s life is the ‘Violon d’Ingres,’ a stunning photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse, styled after the French painter, Ingres. Ingres’s well-known passion for playing the violin gave to the French language the colloquialism, ‘violon d’Ingres,’ meaning a second skill beyond the one by which a person is mainly known.

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