Magazine of art press and reviews from London
A great “Man Ray Portraits” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
David Franchi – Wednesday, 19th June 2013
“Man Ray has been one of the most innovative and influent artists of all times”
“Man Ray Portraits” has been a great exhibition, at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
The exhibition “Man Ray Portraits” included over 150 prints, taken by the artist from 1916 to 1968. The National Portrait Gallery exhibition was the first museum show to focus on Man Ray’s photographic portraiture and it included works never before exhibited in the UK, such as studies of Barbette, Catherine Deneuve, Ava Gardner, Lee Miller and Kiki de Montparnasse.
Man Ray has been one of the most innovative and influent artists of all times. Some of his works are so famous, almost everyone has seen them and they are part of the collective imagination.
Devoted to this most creative and influential artist, the National Portrait Gallery, London, exhibition displayed over 150 vintage prints from Man Ray’s career taken between 1916 and 1968. Drawn from private collections and major museums including the Pompidou Centre, the J. Paul Getty Museum and New York’s The Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, and special loans from the Man Ray Trust Archive, the majority of the works had not previously been exhibited in the United Kingdom.
With his photographic portraiture, Man Ray was able to catch celebrated contemporaries, as well as his personal and often close portraits of friends, lovers and social circle. His versatility and experimentation as an artist is illustrated throughout his photography although he always considered himself as a painter.
“Man Ray Portraits” exhibition brought together photographic portraits of cultural figures and friends including Marcel Duchamp, Berenice Abbott, Andre Breton, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, James Joyce, Erik Satie, Henri Matisse, Barbette, Igor Stravinsky, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dali, Le Corbusier, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Coco Chanel and Wallis Simpson. Also on show are portraits of his lovers Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin) and Lee Miller, who were also his assistants, Ady Fidelin and his last muse and wife Juliet Browner.
Man Ray was born as Emmanuel Rudnitzky (27th August 1890) in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The early life of Man Ray is
partially unknown. He allowed few details to be known to the public. In early 1912, with his family he moved to Brooklyn, New York. Due to ethnic discrimination the family changed their name in Ray, and as Emmanuel was already called ‘Manny’ is started to call himself Man Ray. He then later even refused to acknowledge that he ever had a name other than Man Ray.
In his childhood Man Ray showed to be talented in art and mechanics. When he finished school he was offered a scholarship to study architecture but preferred to follow an art career. His family was unhappy with his decision, however they rearranged the house creating a small studio to help him.
During these years, Man Ray worked as a painter and illustrator for several New York companies. In 1912, he started the period of intense and rapid artistic development, when he enrolled in the Ferrer School.
In 1915 Man Ray had his first solo show of paintings and drawings. In the same year at the Galerie Pierre, in Paris, he participated to the first Surrealist exhibition, together with other artists such as Joan Mirò, Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst.
He arrived to photography in 1918, almost by chance. He bought his first camera in 1914 to shoot his paintings.
At that period Man Ray started to team up with French artist Marcel Duchamp, in a sort of USA branch of the Dada movement. But it was not working well, therefore they both moved to Paris in 1920, settling in Montparnasse.
Shortly after arriving in Paris, Man Ray met and fell in love with Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin), a French artist, model and renowned persona in the town circles of Bohemians.
In Paris Man Ray started to be celebrated has photographer. Many famous people posed for him. In 1922, working with photograms, he almost accidentally created his first “rayographs”, which are photographic images created without a camera by placing objects, for example thumbtacks, or coil of wire, directly on a sheet of photosensitized paper and exposing it to light.
Man Ray had depicted everyday objects before, but these unique, visionary images immediately were highly celebrated by the avant-garde movement. The rayographs are balanced images between the abstract and the representational and discovered a new way of seeing appreciated by the Dadaist as well as by the Surrealist artists.
In 1929 Man Ray met Lee Miller. She was an American photographer and a well -known fashion model in New York. She travelled to Paris with the intention to become an apprentice of Man Ray. At first, he refused but very soon she became his assistant, as well as lover and muse. They are credited in rediscovering and developing the process of solarisation. This can be seen in the exhibition in the portraits of Elsa Schiaparelli, Irene Zurkinden, Suzy Solidor, Lee Miller herself, and Man Ray own Self-Portrait with Camera.
Lee Miller later became a recognized fashion and fine art photographer, as well as a correspondent during the Second World War.
Because of his Jewish origins, Man Ray had to leave Paris during the Second World War. He went to Hollywood where he met Juliet Browner. They married in 1946. While officially devoting himself once more to painting, new research has revealed that Man Ray made a number of significant photographic portraits during his Hollywood years, including film star subjects Ruth Ford, Paulette Goddard, Ava Gardner, Tilly Losch and Dolores del Rio. Several of these photographs are shown for the first time at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition.
However, Man Ray couldn’t live in the USA and returned to Paris in 1951. His portraits from the 1950s include experiments with
colour photography, such as his portraits of Juliette Greco and Yves Montand, and the exhibition closes with his portrait of film star Catherine Deneuve from 1968.
Considering Montparnasse his home, Man Ray lived there his last years and died on 18 November 1976. He was laid to rest in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris where his epitaph reads “Unconcerned, but not indifferent”.
Man Ray still remains an example of creative intellect. Despite he considered himself a painter, he was best known in the art world for his avant-garde photography, and he was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer.
“Man Ray Portraits” was curated by award – winner, Terence Pepper, National Portrait Gallery’s Curator of Photographs.
The National Portrait Gallery exhibition was supported by “Man Ray Portraits” Exhibition Supporters Group. The Spring Season 2013 was sponsored by Herbert Smith Freehills LLP.
“Man Ray Portraits” will tour to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from 22 June until 8 September 2013 and the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow from 14 October 2013 until 19 January 2014.
“Man Ray Portraits” exhibition was at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 7th February until 27th May 2013.