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Review: Man Ray: The Artist and His Shadows Trace Artists Slow Fade




He came with his x-rays, camera-less images made by placing objects on photosensitive paper and exposing them to light. Ray did not discover this process, which dates back to the early days of photography, but he is the artist who pursued it with the most prolific and imagination. More than any other body of his work, the hundreds of x-rays reveal how Man Rays’ sensibility combined visionary flights of inspiration with ingenious, methodical explorations of a problem by engineers, writes Lubow. Even now, the x-rays give off a minimalist and spectral graphic staging; various objects, pins, spools of thread, scissors, combs, straight razors, are arranged with unfussy precision. Inverted colors and spatial interaction merge specificity and abstraction in still lifes that also resemble the x-rays of the industrialized psyche. Rays’ gift was imbuing images that might otherwise seem fanciful with a sort of nervous grace; you almost expect the x-rays to burst into a lively noise.

Paris was also home to Kiki de Montparnasse. Model artist and self-taught muse from the provinces, Kiki presents himself as the enfant terrible of the capital. She certainly dominated this Montparnasse era more than Queen Victoria ever dominated the Victorian era, Hemingway wrote. Kiki would not have worn panties; she sang songs of debauchery in public; she scandalized the cafe owners by walking there without a hat. She seemed to embody both the era of liberated valves and the demi-monde in which women like her typically met tragic fates. (Kiki, addicted to alcohol and cocaine, died in 1953 at the age of 51.) Ray and Kiki dated for eight years, a checkered relationship the artist has commemorated in photographs, including some pornographic self-portraits. Artsier price included The Violin dIngres (1924), which Lubow calls Rays’ most famous photograph, in which Kiki, naked except for a turban, faces the camera, two holes f of a violin engraved on her back via a darkroom baffle. The image is a visual pun, with Kikis’ voluptuous body compared to a musical instrument and the conceptual layering of Ingres violin (expression understood as a hobby) alluding to the fact that the 19th century painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was an amateur violinist. To connoisseurs, Ray seemed to imply that photography was his hobby, although at that time it was also his livelihood.

Rays other conquest of Paris was Lee Miller. They met when the artist was almost 39 and Miller a 22-year-old blonde. She was an American model with an origin story to believe or not: She was crossing a Manhattan street one day when a stranger sheltered her from an oncoming traffic. auto; the foreigner was Cond Nast, who offered him a job in fashion. Like Kiki, Miller became the model, muse and collaborator of Rays. She was herself a photographer who later became a war correspondent for Vogue; she documented the London Blitz and the Nazi concentration camps. Together, she and Ray experimented with solarization photography, which results from overexposure of the film during development. These images almost look like graphite renderings, but their intrigue quickly dissipates. The same can be said of the relationship, which deteriorated after two years, scuttled by Rays’ jealousies. Man Ray could not accept Miller’s social and sexual independence, writes Lubow. It was a model that persisted throughout the life of artists. Even in the 1970s, when he was married to dancer Juliet Browner, he liked his wife to sit quietly in the studio while he painted. We did not talk. He just wanted to feel my presence, Browner wrote. Ray seemed unable or unwilling to grant the women in his life complete autonomy, a blind spot repeatedly reflected in his art, where women are objectified or fragmented into sexual ballast.

The advent of World War II brings Ray back to the United States. He settled in Los Angeles, an unlikely port for an artist so associated with avant-garde chic. He wanted his exile to be temporary, but he stayed there for over a decade. He nicknamed California a beautiful prison, so his years on the West Coast were marked by repetition and inertia. Although he continued to produce works and mount ignored exhibitions (one exhibition was called To Be Continued Unnoticeed), Ray was rudderless. He returned to Paris, where, in 1963, he signed a contract to make edited replicas of his past works. While that sideline brought in cash, Lubow maintains that she turned Rays’ mysterious items into memorabilia. For his part, Ray has inflated this commercial enterprise. It is allowed to repeat yourself as much as possible, he writes. Nothing is more legitimate and more satisfying. Like it or not, the money has flowed. He is dead, rich, in Juliet’s arms.




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