Man Ray - Writings On Art

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Man Ray, 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 years–for 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 woman’s head next to a black African mask–rather 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 maid’s 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,