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MAN RAYAmerican 1890 - 1976

MAN RAYAmerican 1890 - 1976

Man Ray was an artist-polymath: painter, collagist, maker of ‘ready-mades', photographer and film maker. His work balanced the creative and novel with the humorous and wry. Fellow Dadaist Marcel Duchamp proffered the following pithy definition of his close friend: ‘Man Ray, n.m. synon, de Joie, jouer, jouir' (Man Ray, masculine noun, synonymous with joy, to play, to enjoy).

Certainly, wit underlies many of Man Ray's best-known creations. The dry irony of his early ready-mades: a flatiron with metal tacks attached to the bottom surface, titled ‘Gift', and his ‘Enigma of Isidore Ducasse', an unseen object (a sewing machine) wrapped in cloth and tied with a cord. Such appropriations reflect his upbringing in Philadelphia and New York as the son of a tailor and a seamstress.

Leaving New York in 1921, Man Ray settled in Montparnasse, Paris where he established his reputation as a photographer. His natural flair for the medium ensured that he was in high demand for portrait and fashion shoots. In his studio he developed the technique of making photograms, which he re-named rayographs in tribute to himself, and subverted many of the subjects he snapped through the use of startling juxtapositions.

One of Man Ray's most enduring images was a shot of the naked back of Kiki de Montparnasse over which he carefully superimposed the distinctive curled f-holes or sound holes of a cello. It's title ‘Violon d'Ingres' references Ingres's sensuous canvas ‘Le Bain turc' in the Louvre. But the phrase is also common parlance in French for having a second skill, the ‘double entendre' cleverly summing up Man Ray's innate artistic versatility.