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Conversion to Modernism:  The Early Work of Man Ray

February 16, 2003 - August 3, 2003             


Conversion to Modernism:  The Early Work of Man Ray will open at the Montclair Art Museum on February 16, 2003.  Curated by scholar Francis M. Naumann, Ph.D. and Gail Stavitsky Ph. D., Chief Curator of the Montclair Art Museum, Conversion to Modernism will feature 80 paintings and works on paper by Man Ray between 1907 and 1924.  Man Ray is seldom remembered as a New Jersey artist, though the years he spent in the Ridgefield, New Jersey environs, amid a lively artist colony, played a seminal role in his becoming a leading modernist who adopted an increasingly conceptual approach to art-making.  Conversion to Modernism includes expressive figure studies and Cézannesque landscapes made from observation, as well as Cubist still lifes, and a pivotal series of "imaginary landscapes" based on his recollections of a New Jersey camping trip in 1913. The exhibition will also feature recently discovered photographs taken by Man Ray in Ridgefield, and other rare documentary materials, including copies of the various magazines Man Ray designed and hand-printed during his New Jersey years. (left: Man Ray, Black Tray, 1914, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 1/2 inches, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.)

Conversion to Modernism is complemented by a secondary exhibition Jonathan Santlofer:  The Man Ray Series, January, 2003 - June, 2003.  A group of eight drawings by New York artist Jonathan Santlofer, this survey offers a selection of the artist's meticulous, trompe l'oeil renderings of images of Man Ray, combined with adaptations of Man Ray's provocative, surrealistic photographic images.  The Santlofer exhibition is curated by Mary Birmingham.  

Man Ray (1890-1976), has long been considered one of the most versatile and innovative artists of the twentieth century.  He is best known for his intimate association with the French Surrealist group in Paris during the 1920's and 1930's, particularly for his highly inventive and unconventional photographic images.  These remarkable well-acknowledged accomplishments have overshadowed the importance of his earlier work -- significant not only for an understanding of Man Ray's future artistic development, but also extremely important in an effort to gain a thorough understanding of the visual arts in America during one of the most important and crucial phases of the modernist evolution.

The first section of works dating from 1907 to 1912, is intended to give viewers an indication of the Philadelphia-born Man Ray's development from his high school years in Brooklyn, to his studies at the Art Students League and the American Academy in New York, as well as the time when he took life drawing classes at the progressive Ferrer Center on 125th Street. The young artist's early mechanical and architectural drawings will be featured, along with his expressive figure studies.  Man Ray's enrollment at the Ferrer Center coincided with his earliest exposure to modern art.  As a calligrapher and layout artist for a large publishing company in Manhattan, Man Ray often rushed over on his lunch break to Alfred Stieglitz's groundbreaking Gallery 291 where he was particularly impressed by the 1911 exhibition of Cézanne's watercolors.  Man Ray's full conversion to modernism would not occur, however, until his subsequent years spent in New Jersey. 

The largest section of the show is composed of a significant, yet little-known group of works created during the years 1913 to 1915 when Man Ray lived in a small artist's colony in Grantwood, New Jersey, located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan and a few miles outside of Ridgefield.  Man Ray moved to this community in the spring of 1913, shortly after he had seen the grand display of modern art at the Armory Show.  In an effort to keep expenses at a minimum, he shared the rent on a small shack with the American painter Samuel Halpert, a former student of Matisse whom he had met in art classes at the Ferrer Center.  The two artists often painted together, adopting a style that resembled the paintings of the French painter, Albert Marquet. No matter what style Man Ray chose to emulate, and no matter what subject matter he addressed, portraits, landscapes, or still lifes, the paintings of this period share one important characteristic: with few exceptions, they were all based on a relatively straightforward figurative adaptation of their subject.  

Conversion to Modernism will be accompanied by a substantive, fully illustrated book by co-curator Dr. Francis M. Naumann, Ph.D. that is based upon a great deal of new material, as well as his dissertation "Man Ray and America: The New York and Ridgefield Years: 1907-1921" (1988).   Co-curator Dr. Stavitsky has contributed an accompanying essay on the Ridgefield-Grantwood colony.   Like the exhibition, this publication will be the first to thoroughly address the subject of Man Ray's seminal early years. It is being published by Rutgers University Press. (left: Man Ray, Ridgefield Landscape, 1913, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches, Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ, Gift of Naomi and David Savage, 1998.13)

Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray is supported by Central Park Properties, LLC, the Karma Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Targan, the Hollis Taggart Galleries, and the Society for the Preservation of American Modernists.  The exhibition's educational programming is made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Conversion to Modernism will close at MAM on August 3, 2003 and tour to the Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia from September 20, 2003 through November 30, 2003, and the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois from January 23, 2004 through April 4, 2004.

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