REVIEW by Willard Manus
born Emmanuel Radnitsky, was one of the most famous artists of the 20th
century, known not just for his surrealistic paintings, films and photographs
but for his writings on art. Now Getty Publications has published a comprehensive
anthology of his essays, interviews, letters and visual poems, plus excerpts
from an uncompleted novel. MAN RAY also contains 56 color and 29 b/w illustrations
which have been selected by editor Jennifer Mundy, head of collection
research at Tate, London and a Man Ray specialist.
For many today Man Ray is an artist known for a number of iconic
images dating from the inter-war yearsfor example, a painting showing
a giant pair of lips floating in a mackerel sky, a metronome with a photograph
of an eye attached to the pendulum, and a photograph of a white womans
head next to a black African maskrather than for his output as a
whole or his ideas, Mundy writes.
His ideas, many of them brilliant and daring, some of them off-the-wall
and goofy, are packed into this 424-page book. Unlike many visual artists,
Man Ray was a skillful and prolific writer, one who loved to pick up the
pen, write letters, scripts and manifestoes. He may have been known
publicly as an alternately amusing and, to strangers, sometimes curmudgeonly
figure, but these notes show him to have seen himself, and perhaps to
have wanted to be seen by others, as a thinker and as someone who was
interested in using words creatively, just like any of the other media
at his disposal, Mundy adds.
Born in Philadelphia,
raised in New Jersey, Man Ray studied art in Manhattan and exhibited there
when young, then expatriated himself to Paris, where he lived in a tiny
$3-a-week maids room while working on his paintings and photographs.
Soon he fell in with the Dada Group and became friends with such fellow
modernists as Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara and Marcel Duchamp.
He also ventured into the realm of movie making and became notorious for
The Return to Reason, which included nude footage of his mistress
Alice Prin, better known as Kiki de Montparnasse.
Although Man Ray eventually knew fame and success, he remained an anarchist
at heart, at war with society, the art world (and especially art critics),
political parties, the bonds of family and the goals of charity. His oft-repeated
credo was Pleasure and the pursuit of freedom are the guiding motives
in all human activity.
One of his painter friends, Max Ernst, had this to say about him: He
has put his foot in the ass of painting and his finger in the eye of history.
(Getty Publications, getty.edu/publications)