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Man Ray

American Photographer, Sculptor, Painter, and Filmmaker

Movements and Styles: Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Futurism

Born: August 27, 1890 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: November 18, 1976 - Paris, France

Man Ray Timeline

Important Art by Man Ray

The below artworks are the most important by Man Ray - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (1920)
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The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (1920)

Artwork description & Analysis: This early, assisted readymade (a found object slightly altered) was created a year before Man Ray left for France. Marcel Duchamp's influence and assistance are evident in this Dada object, in which a sewing machine is wrapped in an army blanket, and tied with a string. The title comes from French poet Isidore Ducasse (1846-70) and the imagery comes from a quote in his book Les Chants de Maldoror (1869): 'Beautiful as the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella'. Chance effects were important to the Dada artists, and the piece is very much in that spirit, but it also prefigures the Surrealists' interest in revealing the creative power of the unconscious. The original object was created and then dismantled after the photograph was taken. Ray did not reveal the 'enigma' under the felt and intended the photograph as a riddle for the viewers to solve with the title providing a hint.

Object wrapped in felt and string - National Gallery of Australia, Parkes (reconstructed in 1971)

Le Cadeau (The Gift) (1921)
Artwork Images

Le Cadeau (The Gift) (1921)

Artwork description & Analysis: This piece was made in the afternoon on the opening day of Man Ray's first solo show in Paris. It was intended as a gift to the gallery owner, the poet Philippe Soupault, and Ray added it to the show at the last minute. But the object received much attention and disappeared at the end of the opening.

Another assisted readymade, Ray took a simple utilitarian object, an iron, and made it evoke different qualities by attaching the tacks. Hence the tacks, which cling and hold, contrast with the iron, which is meant to smoothly glide, and both are rendered useless.

Iron and tacks - The Museum of Modern Art, New York (replica of the lost original)

Rayography (The Kiss) (1922)
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Rayography (The Kiss) (1922)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of Man Ray's earliest Rayograms, a process by which objects are laid directly on to a photo-sensitive paper then exposed to light. To create this particular picture, he transferred the silhouette of a pair of hands to the photographic paper then repeated the procedure with a pair of heads (his and his then lover's, Kiki de Montparnasse).

Rayograms gave Man Ray an opportunity to be in direct contact with his work and react to his creations immediately by adding one layer upon the next layer. He used inanimate objects as well as his own body to create his earlier pictures, and the pictures sometimes have an autobiographical quality, with many of his photographs portraying his lovers.

Gelatin silver print (photogram) - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Indestructible Object (or Object to Be Destroyed) (1923)
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Indestructible Object (or Object to Be Destroyed) (1923)

Artwork description & Analysis: Man Ray re-created this work multiple times after making the original. The piece was first intended as a silent witness in Ray's studio - watching him paint. In the second version, which was published in the avant-garde journal This Quarter, in 1932, Ray substituted the eye of Lee Miller, his former lover, after she left him and married a successful Egyptian businessman. He wanted to attack Miller by "breaking her up" in his works that feature her, and thus this second version, called Object of Destruction, was accompanied by the following instructions: "Cut out the eye from a photograph of one who has been loved but is seen no more. Attach the eye to the pendulum of a metronome and regulate the weight to suit the tempo desired. Keep going to the limit of endurance. With a hammer well-aimed, try to destroy the whole at a single blow." At an exhibition in 1957, a group of students followed the instructions and destroyed the object. It was later reconstructed and made into multiples using the money Man Ray received from the insurance. He renamed the work Indestructible Object.

Metronome with cutout photograph of eye on pendulum - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Le Violon d'Ingres (The Violin of Ingres) (1924)
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Le Violon d'Ingres (The Violin of Ingres) (1924)

Artwork description & Analysis: Inspired by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's La Grande Baigneuse, Ray used Kiki de Montparnasse wearing a turban as a model for this piece. He transformed the female body into a musical instrument by painting sound-holes on her back, playing with the idea of objectification of an animate body. Throughout his career Man Ray was fascinated with juxtaposing an object with a female body.

Ingres's works were admired by many surrealist artists, including Ray, for his representation of distorted female figures. Ingres's well-known passion for the violin created the colloquialism in French, 'violon d'Ingres', meaning a hobby. Many describe Le Violon d'Ingres as a visual pun, depicting his muse, Kiki, as Ray's 'violon d'Ingres.'

This image is one of many of Man Ray's photographs that have gone on to have a rich afterlife in popular culture. F-holes have become a popular tattoo design amongst musicians, and fashion designers like Viktor and Rolf referenced the image to create their spring 2008 collection.

Gelatin silver print - J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Noire et Blanche (Black and White) (1926)
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Noire et Blanche (Black and White) (1926)

Artwork description & Analysis: This photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse's head next to an African ceremonial mask bears a title that references both the black and white process of photography as well as skin color. It was created at a time when African art and culture was much in vogue. The oval faces of the two almost look identical in their serene expressions, but he contrasts her soft pale face with the shiny black mask. He simplifies the conflict of society into a problem of lighting and imagery in aesthetics - one oval next to another oval; one laying on its side contrasted with another that is erect; one lit from above and the other from the side.

Gelatin silver print - J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Les Larmes (Glass tears) (1932)
Artwork Images

Les Larmes (Glass tears) (1932)

Artwork description & Analysis: Looking almost like a film still, this cropped photograph demonstrates Man Ray's interest in cinematic narrative. The model's eyes and mascara-coated lashes are looking upward, invoking the viewers to wonder where she's looking and what is the source of her distress. The piece was created soon after the artist's break-up with his assistant and lover, Lee Miller. Ray created multiple works in an attempt to "break her up" as a revenge on a lover who left him (similar to Indestructible Object).

The model is in fact not a real woman but a fashion mannequin with glass bead tears on the cheeks. Here, again, Man Ray is exploring his interest in the real and unreal by challenging the meaning of still-life photography.

Gelatin silver print - J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

l'Heure de l'Observatoire: les Amoureux</i> (Observatory Time: The Lovers) (1936)
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l'Heure de l'Observatoire: les Amoureux (Observatory Time: The Lovers) (1936)

Artwork description & Analysis: One of Man Ray's most memorable paintings, Observatory Time, is featured in this black-and-white photograph, along with a nude. It includes a depiction of the lips of his departed lover, Lee Miller, floating in the sky above the Paris Observatory. In the photograph, the nude is lying on her side on a sofa underneath the painting, with a chessboard at her feet. Observatory Time hints at what the woman might be dreaming: a nightmare or an erotic fantasy. The lips in the picture were an inspiration for the logo of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and many other pop culture iconic images. The chessboard appears in many of the artist's works - Duchamp, Picabia and Man Ray all loved playing chess. And Man Ray considered a grid of squares, "the basis for all art... it helps you to understand the structure, to master a sense of order." He also made chess set designs and photographs of chessboards, pieces and players.

- Private Collection



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Man Ray Photo

Related Art and Artists

Fountain (1917)
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Fountain (1917)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp

Artwork description & Analysis: The most notorious of the readymades, Fountain was submitted to the 1917 Society of Independent Artists under the pseudonym R. Mutt. The initial R stood for Richard, French slang for "moneybags" whereas Mutt referred to JL Mott Ironworks, the New York-based company, which manufactured the porcelain urinal. After the work had been rejected by the Society on the grounds that it was immoral, critics who championed it disputed this claim, arguing that an object was invested with new significance when selected by an artist for display. Testing the limits of what constitutes a work of art, Fountain staked new grounds. What started off as an elaborate prank designed to poke fun at American avant-garde art, proved to be one of most influential artworks of the 20th century.

Urinal - Philadelphia Museum of Art

Great Masturbator (1929)
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Great Masturbator (1929)

Artist: Salvador Dalí

Artwork description & Analysis: Central to the piece is a large distorted human face looking down upon a landscape, a familiar rocky shoreline scene reminiscent of Dalí's home in Catalonia. A nude female figure representing Dalí's new-at-the-time muse Gala rises from the head, symbolic of the type of fantasy a man would conjure while engaged in the practice suggested by the title. Her mouth near a male's crotch suggests impending fellatio while he seems to be literally "cut" at the knees from which he bleeds, a sign of a stifled sexuality. Other motifs in the painting include a grasshopper - a consistent beacon for sexual anxiety in Dalí's work, ants - elusion to decay and death, and an egg - representing fertility.

The painting may represent Dalí's severely conflicted attitudes towards sexual intercourse and his lifelong phobia of female genitalia right at the cross section of meeting and falling in love with Gala. When he was a young boy, Dalí's father exposed him to a book of explicit photos demonstrating the horrific effects of venereal disease, perpetuating traumatic associations of sex with morbidity and rot in his mind. It is said that Dalí was a virgin when he met Gala and that he later encouraged his wife to have affairs to satisfy her sexual desires. Later in life when his paintings turned to religious and philosophical themes, Dalí would tout chastity as a door to spirituality. This piece has been compared to Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Oil on canvas - Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

Très rare tableau sur la terre (Very Rare Picture on the Earth) (1915)
Artwork Images

Très rare tableau sur la terre (Very Rare Picture on the Earth) (1915)

Artist: Francis Picabia

Artwork description & Analysis: After World War I broke out, Picabia became fascinated with the idea of industrial objects as a pictorial source. He once wrote that "the machine has become more than a mere adjunct of life. It is really a part of human life...perhaps the very soul...I have enlisted the machinery of the modern world, and introduced it into my studio." His goal, he said, was to invent a "mechanical symbolism," and this piece is one of his most important examples, since critics have read it as an image of a sexual act rendered in mechanical terms. Although, at first glance, it might be hard to read so, Picabia may well have been inspired by his friend Marcel Duchamp to bury sexual references in images of machines. This work is also significant in that it is Picabia's first known collage (hence, as the title suggests, "very rare") since it contains two mounted wooden forms, and the frame is integral to the piece.

It stands to remember that Picabia loved machines, an in particular cars. He is said to have had a collection of over 100 automobiles. So here he is depicting the insides of his passion. Although he may be making fun of mankind, he may also, in true modernist fashion, be connecting technology and progress to human lives.

Oil and metallic paint on board, and silver and gold leaf on wood, including artist's painted frame - Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

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Content compiled and written by Jin Jung

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jin Jung
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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