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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

Man Ray Portraits

 

 

National Portrait Gallery


Curated by Terence Pepper


Until 27 May 2013
 

 


 

Man Ray Portraits is a story of four crossings from the USA to Paris. Born in Philadelphia in 1890 to Russian émigré parents, Ray goes to France with Marcel DuChamp in the 1920’s, returns to the USA to capture Hollywood’s golden age of the 40’s and 50’s, and then settles in Paris until his death in 1976. It is a remarkable career.

‘Don’t worry about idealism and practicality, try to get paid for what you do, and don’t worry if you don’t. Just keep on working.’ Ray tells his niece and protégé, Naomi Savage. Fortune smiled on Man Ray through his inspirational muses Kiki Montparnasse (Alice Prin), surrealist photographer Lee Miller and Juliet Browner to the over-arching influence of DuChamp, surrealism and the Dada movement. He seems to have been in the right place at the right time. ‘Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is Dada.’ In Paris his photographic portraiture and Dadist sensibility thrived.

 

Juliet,1947 by Man Ray
Collection Timothy Baum, New York
© Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP/DACS

 

Apart from reading like a cultural Arts and Literati elite these artful photographs capture relaxed, informal images of a genial Erik Satie, an ankle-scratching Stravinsky, a seated Gertrude Stein under her own Picasso-painted image or an arrestingly beautiful Virginia Woolf mid-sentence, as well as the intense gaze of Arnold Schoenberg, Antonin Artaud and a crazed-looking Salvador Dali.

The showman/photographer, only thinly disguised, waits in the wings to ‘touch up’ detail, to reconfigure the ordinary, as the ‘striking androgyny’ of transvestite dancer Babette, 1926, burns into the printer Lee Miller’s poster girl, all solarisation and all, pre-figures Elsa Schiaparelli, 1934, and Leslie Caron in the 1950s. Yet look again at the remarkable gelatin silver photographs, simply named Jacqueline, 1930, after Jacqueline Goddard; the composition and use of lighting is breath-taking.

 

Barbette, 1926 by Man Ray
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.1000.39
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

Yet so convincing are these early experiments that stills from the 1923 film Le Retour end Raison (The Return to Reason) featuring the lined torso of Kiki Montparnasse, cross-reference seamlessly to the Lee Miller triptych, using the same contoured technique. The photographs in both instances are ravishing, the artifice ambivalent. Man Ray is preoccupied with body parts. His work shows cropped, disembodied or incomplete images: Woman Smoking a cigarette, 1920, Noire et Blanche, 1926 or a play in contrasts as in the photograph of Dancer Serge Lifar as Romeo, 1926.

Back in 1916 Ray produced Self Portrait an ‘assemblage’ reminiscent of Du Champs’ ‘readymades.’ With its handprint, and pun on the French ‘main’with his name, bell-push, and motif it links to the sensuous Le Violond’ingres, 1924, in which Kiki Montparnasse poses with her back to the camera, topped by turban and a three-quarters’ timeless expression. Even the arresting photograph of Man Ray’s studio, 1930, is an artful overhead shot.

 

 

Man Ray Self-Portrait with Camera, 1932 by Man Ray
The Jewish Museum, New York, Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift, 2004-16. Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc © 2008 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2012 © Photo The Jewish Museum

 

Man Ray Portraits, curated by Terence Pepper is a compact exhibition: ‘the first major, museum retrospective of the artist’s photographic portraits.’ This seems surprising. The focus is on Man Ray’s photography which perhaps gives a distorted view against his prodigious out-put. There are over 150 exhibits spanning the early years, Hollywood and his final experimentations in colour of Juliette Greco and Yves Montand. Yet it is the black and white photograph of Catherine Deneuve, 1968, which dominates the last section. Deneuve wears spiralled gold earrings,which recall Dada poet and painter, Mina Loy, 1920, whose own earring is a dark-room thermometer. Man Ray’s artful experimentation comes full circle. The irony is that it is through a medium intended to record his art, not be its primary source.

Du Champ’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2, 1912, inspired Man Ray, when first exhibited nearly 100 years ago, in New York. It brought these two artists together. Now they are but a stone’s throw away, as London plays host to both…

 

 

Le Violon d'Ingres, 1924 by Man Ray
Museum Ludwig Cologne, Photography Collections (Collection Gruber)
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP © Copy Photograph Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln

 

 

National Portrait Gallery

St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE
Through till 27 May
Monday - Sunday 10 – 6; late opening Thursday, Friday 10 – 9
Advanced booking is advised: Gift Aid admission £14, Concessions £13/£12; Standard price admission £12.70, Concessions £11.80/£10.90

Tickets www.npg.org.uk/ManRay or 020 7766 7331
 
 

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