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Man Ray, photographed at Gaite-Montparnasse exhibition in Paris by Carl Van Vechten on June 16, 1934
|Birth name||Emmanuel Radnitzky|
August 27, 1890|
|Died||November 18, 1976
|Field||Painting, Photography, Assemblage, Collage, Film|
Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky) (August 27, 1890 – November 18, 1976) was an American artist who spent most of his career in Paris, France. Described as a modernist, he was a significant contributor to both the Dada and Surrealist movements; although his ties to each were informal. Best known in the art world for his avant-garde photography, Ray produced major works in a variety of media and was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer, even though he considered himself a painter above all. Ray is also noted for his work with photograms, with the artist coining the term "Rayographs" in reference to himself.
Whilst appreciation for Ray's work beyond his fashion and portrait photography was not forthcoming during his lifetime, especially in his native United States, his reputation has grown steadily in the decades since.
From the time he began attracting attention as an artist until his death more than sixty years later, Man Ray allowed little of his early life or family background to be known to the public, even refusing to acknowledge that he ever had a name other than Man Ray.
Man Ray was born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1890, the eldest child of recent Russian Jewish immigrants. The family would eventually include another son and two daughters, the youngest born in 1897 shortly after they settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. In early 1912, the Radnitzky family changed their surname to Ray, a name selected by Man Ray's brother as a reaction to the ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism prevalent at the time. Emmanuel, who was called "Manny" as a nickname, changed his first name to Man at this time and gradually began to use Man Ray as his combined single name.
Man Ray's father was a garment factory worker who also ran a small tailoring business out of the family home, enlisting his children to assist him from an early age. Man Ray's mother enjoyed making the family's clothes from her own designs and inventing patchwork items from scraps of fabric. Despite Man Ray's desire to disassociate himself from his family background, growing up around tailoring left an enduring mark on his art. Tailor's dummies, flat irons, sewing machines, needles, pins, threads, swatches of fabric, and other items related to clothing and sewing, appear at every stage, as well as in almost every medium, of his work. Art historians have also noted similarities between Ray's collage and painting techniques and those used in the making of clothing.
Man Ray displayed artistic and mechanical abilities during childhood; and his education at New York's Boys' High School (1904-1908) provided him with a solid grounding in drafting and other basic art techniques. Whilst attending school in New York, he also educated himself with frequent visits to the local art museums, where he studied the works of the Old Masters. After graduation from high school, Ray was offered a scholarship to study architecture but instead chose to pursue a career as an artist. Whilst Ray's parents were disappointed by their son's decision to pursue art, the pair preferring upward mobility and assimilation instead, they agreed to rearrange the family's modest living quarters so that Ray could use a room as his studio. Ray remained in the family home over the next four years, working steadily towards being a professional painter during this time, and earned money as a commercial artist and technical illustrator at several Manhattan companies.
From the surviving examples of his work from this period, it appears he attempted mostly paintings and drawings in 19th-century styles. He was already an avid admirer of avant-garde art of the time, such as the European modernists he saw at Alfred Stieglitz's "291" gallery and works by the Ashcan School, but, with a few exceptions, was not yet able to integrate these new trends into his own work. The art classes he sporadically attended—including stints at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League—were of little apparent benefit to him, until he enrolled in the Ferrer School in the autumn of 1912, thus beginning a period of intense and rapid artistic development.
Living in New York City, influenced by what he saw at the 1913 Armory Show and in galleries showing contemporary works from Europe, Man Ray's early paintings display facets of cubism. Upon befriending Marcel Duchamp who was interested in showing movement in static paintings, his works begin to depict movement of the figures, for example in the repetitive positions of the skirts of the dancer in The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Shadows (1916).
In 1915, Man Ray had his first solo show of paintings and drawings. His first proto-Dada object, an assemblage titled Self-Portrait, was exhibited the following year. He produced his first significant photographs in 1918.
Abandoning conventional painting, Man Ray involved himself with Dada, a radical anti-art movement, started making objects, and developed unique mechanical and photographic methods of making images. For the 1918 version of Rope Dancer he combined a spray-gun technique with a pen drawing. Again, like Duchamp, he made "readymades"—objects selected by the artist, sometimes modified and presented as art. His Gift readymade (1921) is a flatiron with metal tacks attached to the bottom, and Enigma of Isidore Ducasse is an unseen object (a sewing machine) wrapped in cloth and tied with cord. Another work from this period, Aerograph (1919), was done with airbrush on glass.
In 1920 Ray helped Duchamp make his first machine and one of the earliest examples of kinetic art, the Rotary Glass Plates composed of glass plates turned by a motor. That same year Man Ray, Katherine Dreier and Duchamp founded the Société Anonyme, an itinerant collection which in effect was the first museum of modern art in the U.S.
Ray teamed up with Duchamp to publish the one issue of New York Dada in 1920. Man Ray expressed that "dada's experimentation was no match for the wild and chaotic streets of New York, and he wrote that "Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is dada, and will not tolerate a rival." Man Ray moved to Paris in 1921.
Man Ray met his first wife, the Belgian poet Adon Lacroix, in 1913 in New York. They married in 1914, separated in 1919, and were formally divorced in 1937.
In July 1921, Man Ray went to live and work in Paris, France, and soon settled in the Montparnasse quarter favored by many artists. Shortly after arriving in Paris, he met and fell in love with Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin), an artists' model and celebrated character in Paris bohemian circles. Kiki was Man Ray's companion for most of the 1920s. She became the subject of some of his most famous photographic images and starred in his experimental films. In 1929 he began a love affair with the Surrealist photographer Lee Miller.
For the next 20 years in Montparnasse, Man Ray made his mark on the art of photography. Significant members of the art world, such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, Bridget Bate Tichenor, and Antonin Artaud posed for his camera.
With Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso, Man Ray was represented in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. Works from this period include a metronome with an eye, originally titled Object to Be Destroyed. Another important work from this part of Man Ray's life is the Violon d'Ingres, a stunning photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse, styled after the painter/musician, Ingres. This work is a popular example of how Man Ray could juxtapose disparate elements in his photography in order to generate meaning.
Together with Lee Miller, who was his photography assistant and lover, Man Ray reinvented the photographic technique of solarization. He also created a technique using photograms he called rayographs, which he described as "pure dadaism".
Man Ray directed a number of influential avant-garde short films, known as Cinéma Pur, such as Le Retour à la Raison (2 mins, 1923); Emak-Bakia (16 mins, 1926); L'Étoile de Mer (15 mins, 1928); and Les Mystères du Château de Dé (27 mins, 1929). Man Ray also assisted Marcel Duchamp with the cinematography of his film Anemic Cinema (1926), and personally manned the camera on Fernand Léger's Ballet Mécanique (1924). Man Ray also appeared in René Clair's film Entr'acte (1924), in a brief scene playing chess with Duchamp.
Later in life, Man Ray returned to the United States, having been forced to leave Paris due to the dislocations of the Second World War. He lived in Los Angeles, California from 1940 until 1951. A few days after arriving in Los Angeles, Man Ray met Juliet Browner, a first generation American of Rumanian-Jewish lineage; a trained dancer and experienced artists' model. They began living together almost immediately, and married in 1946 in a double wedding with their friends Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. However, he called Montparnasse home and he returned there.
In 1963 he published his autobiography, Self-Portrait, which was republished in 1999 (ISBN 0-8212-2474-3).
He died in Paris on November 18, 1976 of a lung infection, and was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris. His epitaph reads: unconcerned, but not indifferent. When Juliet Browner died in 1991, she was interred in the same tomb. Her epitaph reads, together again. Juliet set up a trust for his work and made many donations of his work to museums.
In 1999, ARTnews magazine named Ray one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century. The publication cited his groundbreaking photography, "his explorations of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage and prototypes of what would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art". ARTnews further stated that "Man Ray offered artists in all media an example of a creative intelligence that, in its 'pursuit of pleasure and liberty', unlocked every door it came to and walked freely where it would." (seeking pleasure and liberty was one of Ray's guiding principles, along with others, such as doing those things that are socially prohibited).
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