Man Ray was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, yet retains its own distinct style. During his career, Man Ray’s work spanned a variety of media: painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking, film, poetry and prose. Ray developed a close personal relationship with the gallery owner and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who introduced Ray to photography.
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Gagosian Gallery Archive
Man Ray started photographing his paintings as documentation and experimenting with the camera as an artistic tool. With Marcel Duchamp, Ray made multiple attempts to promote Dada in New York. They founded the Society of Independent Artists in 1916 and published a single issue of New York Dada in 1920. In the same year they founded the Société Anonyme, Inc. with Katherine Dreier, a prominent art collector, due to the lack of public enthusiasm for Dada art in New York, and his failed marriage to his first wife, Ray was despondent. With encouragement from Duchamp, Ray moved to Paris in 1921. In his career, from 1921 to 1940, Man Ray worked primarily as a fashion photographer, in Paris, shooting for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as designers such as Vionnet, Lanvin, Chanel, and Schiaparelli. When World War II came to Paris, in 1940, he escaped to the United States, settling in Los Angeles, where he deliberately moved away from commercial photography, to focus on making art. The exhibition “Man Ray LA” explores the collection of original silver gelatin photographs from Man Ray’s “Hollywood” period. Throughout his vast body of work, Man Ray alluded to relationships between the real and the fictive, with a deft mastery over the liminal territory between the abstract and the figurative form. However, these black-and-white, high contrast, carefully composed works eschew the abstract qualities of his innovative rayographs. Instead, they are striking portraits that document his life, social circle, and surroundings, as well as the landscapes and streetscapes of his wartime sanctuary city. These images not only find their own niche within Man Ray’s work, but also give context to his life in California: Many of the portraits are of famous figures with whom he spent his California years, including Ruth Ford, Ava Gardner, Jennifer Jones, Tilly Losch, Jean Renoir, and Igor Stravinsky. He had a successful career as a photographer while in Hollywood, but he felt the city lacked stimulus and the kind of appreciation he desired. Even though he was back home in USA, Ray thought American critics could not understand him, believing his ability to go from one medium to another and his success in commercial photography confused them. Ray longed to go back to Montparnasse where he felt at home, eventually returning in 1951. Upon his arrival, he began writing his autobiography to explain himself to the people who he alleged misunderstood and misrepresented his work. The resulting “Self-Portrait” was published in 1963.
Info: Gagosian Gallery, 456 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, Duration: 11/1-17/2/18, Days & Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00-18:00, www.gagosian.com