February 10, 2010

Alias Man Ray The Art of Reinvention at The Jewish Museum, NYC


Alias Man Ray:

The Art of Reinvention

The Jewish Museum, NYC

Through March 14, 2010


The first major multimedia Man Ray exhibition in New York since 1974, Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, provides a rare opportunity to reassess the artist’s impact and gain new insights. Man Ray was one of the most influential and important artists in Dada and Surrealist circles. Yet his work and career remain mysterious to many people. Over 200 works in all media, on view at The Jewish Museum through Sunday, March 14, 2010, provide a new interpretive context in which to understand Man Ray’s art.

Visitors to Alias Man Ray are privy to the artist’s endless experimentation in photographs, paintings, sculptures and objects, drawings, films and a selection of his writings. A trailblazing figure in 20th-century art, Man Ray (1890-1976) revealed multiple artistic identities over the course of his career – Dadaist, Parisian Surrealist, international portrait and fashion photographer – and produced many important and enduring works as a photographer, painter, filmmaker, writer, sculptor, and object maker. Relatively few people know that he was born Emmanuel Radnitzky to Russian Jewish immigrants.

The exhibition explores the deliberate cultural ambiguity of Man Ray who became the first American artist to be accepted by the avant-garde in Paris. It also examines the dynamic connection between Man Ray’s assimilation, the evolution of his art, and his willful construction of a distinctive artistic persona.

Man Ray had an incredible affinity for the cutting edge art of his time. He found a kindred spirit in Marcel Duchamp, and eventually became a legend himself. His artistic achievements include creating the first kinetic sculpture years before Duchamp coined the term “mobile” in reference to Alexander Calder’s work. Man Ray also blurred traditional boundaries between painting and photographs, and broke new ground in photography with rayographs and solarization.

As the first Man Ray retrospective at a New York City museum in a generation, the exhibition contains many iconic works like the photographs Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) and Noire et Blanche (1926); the paintings War (A.D. MCMXIV) (1914), The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows (1915-16) and La Fortune (1938); and the painted screen La Forêt Dorée de Man Ray (1950). Two short silent films by Man Ray: Le retour à la raison (1923), the artist’s first film, and Emak-Bakia (1926), whose title means “leave me alone,” as well as excerpts from Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde, a 1997 American Masters/WNET production, are also on view.

Best known as a photographer, Man Ray moved from one medium to another as he defied aesthetic boundaries. The Jewish Museum show does not confine itself to one period of the artist’s career or a single medium, such as photography. This approach is essential to illustrating how Man Ray continuously broke with aesthetic tradition and made a monumental contribution to 20th-century art with his wildly sophisticated and deeply influential work.

He came of age at the beginning of the 20th century and the rise of abstract art. Man Ray grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His father worked as a tailor and his mother was a seamstress. After being introduced to New York art circles by photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, he went off to Paris—the center of experimental art—and was embraced by the avant-garde. The year was 1921 and Man Ray was 31. In Paris, he was perceived as neither Jewish nor a New Yorker but as a free-thinking American who quickly gained notice.

To make ends meet, he took assignments photographing a broad spectrum of literary and artistic figures. That group now reads like a modernist pantheon—André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust and Gertrude Stein, among others. These innovative portraits, all on view in the exhibition, provide a chronicle of the social milieu in which Man Ray thrived.

Man Ray engaged in a constant process of self-inscription and erasure, managing to outwit anyone who wanted to label him. Like his fellow Dadaist and close friend Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray took delight in playing games and confounding expectations. With his steadfast independence and his need to explore every artistic avenue, Man Ray forged a vision that changed the very way art was conceived.

Here are just a few of the press responses to the show. The Wall Street Journal's recent review of the exhibition was entitled “Masked Man, Revealed” and referred to the artist as “a protean master of the 20th-century avant-garde.” ARTnews observed that the show was “ambitious.” The New York Times said that the exhibition was a “retrospective with an irresistible biographical hook,” and The Brooklyn Rail found Alias Man Ray to be “a timely” and “comprehensive survey of Man Ray’s 60-year career as an artist, and what an artist he was” with The Daily Beast declaring it “a lucid, revisionist examination of Man Ray’s life and work.”

The exhibition has been organized by Mason Klein, Curator at The Jewish Museum. The accompanying 256-page catalogue with 246 illustrations, co-published by Yale University Press and The Jewish Museum, includes essays by Mr. Klein, Merry A. Foresta, and George Baker, with an illustrated timeline by Lauren Schell Dickens presenting the facts of Man Ray’s life in the cultural and historical context of his times. The hardcover book is available at The Jewish Museum’s Cooper Shop and bookstores everywhere for $50.00.

Produced by The Jewish Museum in association with Acoustiguide, a random access audio guide has been created for the Alias Man Ray exhibition. Available to visitors for $5, it features an introduction by The Jewish Museum’s Director Joan Rosenbaum; and critical commentary by curator Mason Klein; Neil Baldwin, author of Man Ray: American Artist; and Man Ray scholar Merry A. Foresta.

Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention is made possible by grants from S. Donald Sussman and the David Berg Foundation. Major funding was also provided by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Eugene M. and Emily Grant Family Foundation in honor of Evelyn G. Clyman, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, the Leon Levy Foundation, Ellen S. Flamm, and the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund. Additional support was provided by the Neubauer Family Foundation Exhibition Fund and other donors. The exhibition is sponsored by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation. The catalogue is funded through the Dorot Foundation publications endowment.

The Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York NY 10128

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