The following essays were written by Francis M. Naumann and Gail Stavitsky for the illustrated catalogue Conversion to Modernism -- The Early Work of Man Ray, ISBN 0-8135-3147-0, which accompanied a February 16 - August 3, 2003 exhibition at The Montclair Art Museum. The essays are reprinted with permission of the Montclair Art Museum and without illustrations. If you have questions or comments regarding the essays, or wish to purchase a copy of the catalogue, please contact the Montclair Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


"Conversion to Modernism"

by Francis M. Naumann



The Art of Painting in More than Two Dimensions: The Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors, Cliché Verre, and Airbrush Compositions of 1917-1919


In January 1917 - the same month when his exhibition at the Daniel Gallery was held - Man Ray hand-lettered and -printed another small pamphlet of poetry, on the cover of which were inscribed the words "visual words / sounds seen / thoughts felt / feelings thought," a somewhat accurate summary of the intent and contents of this ephemeral publication (fig. 173). The text consists largely of nonsense syllables, twists and variations on a musical scale that, when read aloud, evoke the incantation of an amusing love poem: "mi o do ré mi o 'marmelade'." Exactly what motivated Man Ray to issue this pamphlet at this time is unknown, unless he intended it as a private, amorous message for his wife, written, perhaps, in gratitude for her having contributed the introduction to his show.

Whatever prompted the creation of this modest literary achievement, after his show closed at the Daniel Gallery, it is clear that Man Ray began to question the direction he had been pursuing as a painter. Soon he would consciously abandon his adherence to the formalist program that had so thoroughly affected the development of his work. Indeed, as he later explained in his autobiography, the adverse reaction he had received during the course of this exhibition only served to fuel what he himself described as a "contrary spirit," rekindling his determination to not turn back. Rather, in the future he would explore alternative is unknown, unless he intended it as a private, amorous message for his wife, written, perhaps, in gratitude for her having contributed the introduction to his show.

Whatever prompted the creation of this modest literary achievement, after his show closed at the Daniel Gallery, it is clear that Man Ray began to question the direction he had been pursuing as a painter. Soon he would consciously abandon his adherence to the formalist program that had so thoroughly affected the development of his work. Indeed, as he later explained in his autobiography, the adverse reaction he had received during the course of this exhibition only served to fuel what he himself described as a "contrary spirit," rekindling his determination to not turn back. Rather, in the future he would explore alternative approaches and techniques, pursuing with even greater enthusiasm what he called "new excursions into the unknown."[1] With his most recent experiments so thoroughly misunderstood by the public and press alike - not to mention his dealer, as well as some of his closest friends - from this point onward Man Ray's work would become increasingly identified with the younger generation of American modernists who sought inspiration from the example of their more renowned European colleagues.

No doubt in realization of his newly established position, three works by Man Ray were included in an exhibition of modern art - said to have been organized by a group of European and American artists - held at the Bourgeois Galleries in February of 1917. Here, for the first time in a prominent New York gallery, Man Ray's work was shown in the company of progressive American and European art - from European modernists who had already established their reputations (Georges Braque, Andre Derain, Albert Gleizes, Francis Picabia) to younger American painters and sculptors whose work was just then becoming associated with the most recent developments of the modern school (John Covert, Jean Crotti, Morton Schamberg, Charles Sheeler, Joseph Stella, and Adolf Wolff). Although it was not emphatically stated in the accompanying catalogue, one of the primary purposes of the exhibition was to point out that modern art did not stop with the Armory Show - that a new generation of modernists was just beginning to emerge. "The men who have not reached the point where their artistic character is determined," read the catalogue statement, "feel a great freedom before the means from which they are to choose, and search for the ones that will carry them farthest."[2] Indeed, during the course of 1917, this search would lead Man Ray to choose both the inspiration and means by which to carry his work even further than that of his most advanced American colleagues.

The next major exhibition in which Man Ray was to participate was the first showing of the newly established Society of Independent Artists, to whose board of directors he had only recently been appointed.[3] According to the rules of the society, anyone who paid the required initiation fee of one dollar and an annual dues of five dollars was allowed to submit two works to the first exhibition. In preliminary statements, it was announced that each work would be displayed in full daylight, with the additional guarantee that at least one by each artist would be hung "on the line," or at eye level. With only one exception, the hanging committee kept its promise for over one thousand exhibitors, in spite of the fact that they received over two thousand works for exhibition. So as to further guarantee equality among the exhibiting members, the board of directors endorsed Duchamp's suggestion that the works be hung in alphabetical order, in accordance with the first letter of the artist's last name. It was also Duchamp's idea that the first entry to be hung be determined by the drawing of letters from a hat.[4] As chance would have it, the letter R was selected, so Man Ray's submission - The Rope Dancer (fig. 159), then still entitled "Theatre of the Soul" - was placed in the most desired position available, at the northeast corner of the main gallery, greeting visitors upon their entry to the exhibition.

Years later Man Ray recalled that a number of his fellow exhibitors were displeased with the hanging. In fact, some even went so far as to claim that the arrangement of the pictures may have been the results of a publicity stunt. But it was not the prominent position of Man Ray's painting they complained about. It was his vibrant use of colors, which apparently drew too much attention away from the surrounding works. "My painting made theirs look dull and insignificant," he recalled. Indeed, Stieglitz, who again confronted the artist before his work (as he had in the Forum Exhibition a year earlier), thought the painting was "very significant," that "it vibrated." "In fact," the prominent dealer and photographer noted, "it was almost blinding."[5]

It was not Man Ray's entry, however, that drew the most attention from the press. Reviewers of the exhibition repeatedly singled out works for their unusual subjects and materials, while predominantly conservative critics and would-be critics had a virtual field day with the paintings and sculptures that displayed even the most remote of modernist tendencies. Historically speaking, however, the work that was to make the most significant impression was an object that was not even shown in the exhibition: Duchamp's infamous white porcelain urinal, submitted under the pseudonym R. Mutt and assigned the simple but provocative title Fountain. In spite of the society's "no jury" policy, an emergency meeting of its directors was called to decide whether such an "indecent" object could be placed on public display. The directors solved the problem by officially declaring that the work was not a work of art and thus could not be included in an art exhibition. Of course, this was exactly what Duchamp expected, for his entry not only tested the liberal rules of the society he helped to establish but also forced the public to consider the question of exactly what constituted a work of art, a subject Duchamp had been thinking about for a number of years in connection with his concept of the readymade.

It was in this crucial period of Man Ray's artistic development - while gaining ever-increasing exposure to the nihilistic attitudes of Duchamp and his friends - that the young painter must have come to seriously question the importance and validity of his former working methods. Certainly, it was the freedom expressed by the Independents that caused him to question the ability of others to judge the quality or importance of a given work of art. Some forty years later he would proudly declare that he had "never submitted a work to a jury or in competition for a prize."[6] Moreover, as he had doubtlessly already discovered, a strict adherence to an art comprised of exclusively two dimensions imposed natural formal limitations that the artist was no longer willing to accept. Furthermore, this new, more adventurous attitude toward the art-making process coincided with a number of important events in the artist's life - both public and private - each of which contributed in varying degrees to the radical change in style and approach that marked the transition of his work in this period.

First, President Wilson's declaration of war with Germany on April 6, 1917, must have had a profound effect on the artist's attitude toward his government, as it did, in one way or another, on all American citizens. Since this important historical announcement coincided with the opening of the Independents, reviewers of the exhibition were quick to draw comparisons between the democratic principles of the society and America's defense of world democracy. Man Ray's pacifist leanings and friendship with a number of anarchists, however, would have protected him from developing any blind patriotic attitudes about war, and they certainly would have prevented him from supporting an active participation in the war effort. Nevertheless, the artist could hardly have failed to compare his own artistic liberation with the theme of political liberation that had dominated the headlines. The general impression promoted by the American government was that we were entering the war not only in defense of our European allies but as a necessary step in securing total world freedom. It is hard to imagine that artists predisposed toward the most current tendencies in modern art would not have readily transposed this concept of liberation to their own personal struggle to break from the restrictions and entrenchments of a more established and accepted form of academic art. Indeed, Frederick James Gregg, who wrote about both art and politics for Vanity Fair, said that the Independents exhibition "stands for the spirit of the greater freedom that all real Americans confidently believe will mark the end of the War," concluding, "Art, like a man, can live truly only when it is free."[7]

Second, on a far more personal level, it was approximately in this same period - while pondering the future course of his artistic production - that, Man Ray later recalled, he first began to experience certain marital difficulties. In the spring of 1917, after the close of his second exhibition at the Daniel Gallery, Adon Lacroix apparently became concerned with the fact that no works managed to sell. Without sales to depend upon in order to supplement their meager income, she complained that their rent was too high and feared that they might no longer be able to meet their normal living expenses. On at least one occasion she resorted to outright thievery; against her husband's better judgement, she stole a winter coat from a big department store in New York - a criminal act, Man Ray conceded, probably committed more to create excitement than for reasons of necessity. In a group of photographs that he took of his wife in these years (fig. 174), she can be seen sporting a leopard-skin wrap, possibly the very item of apparel that she pilfered. If the expression on her face in these photographs is any indication, it seems that Lacroix, too, was beginning to question the happiness of their marriage. The couple occasionally engaged in a game of chess, which, according to Man Ray, inevitably ended in a quarrel, because she hated to lose.

As Man Ray became increasingly involved in his work, he started leaving his wife alone for long periods of time (a situation that later contributed to her having an affair with another man and the couple's eventual separation). Whether these personal difficulties contributed to the dramatic change in style that Man Ray experienced at this time would be difficult if not impossible to establish with certainty. It is likely, however, that these important events in his life would have forced the artist at least to momentarily step back and assess the status of his current situation - on both a personal and professional level - while contemplating the direction of his future.

At some point in early 1917, the couple moved to less expensive quarters in Greenwich Village: a small apartment on Eighth Street off Fifth Avenue, just around the corner from the famed Brevoort Hotel, in an area that had already established itself at the heart of Manhattan's growing bohemian district. As comfortable as these new, more domestic surroundings might have been, in smaller and more restrained quarters Man Ray found himself unable to carry out his work. Just after settling in, however, his landlady offered him the rental of an empty attic room. In this garret-like space, Man Ray decided to abandon the standard tools of painting, in order to discover an entirely new method of pictorial expression. "I'd already done away with brushes and was painting almost exclusively with knives," he told Arturo Schwarz, "but I was still not satisfied."[8]

Man Ray had employed the palette knife in a number of earlier works - as in Dance (fig. 145) and a few small paintings from the previous year (figs. 168, 169) - and he seems to have favored the control of paint application offered by this tool throughout his career as a painter. The heavily textured layers of pigment in two still lifes from 1917, Sec (fig. 175) and Filter (fig. 176), appear to have been applied entirely with the blade of this sharp, planar instrument. While the specific images of these paintings may have been inspired by his domestic surroundings, the subjects reveal certain interests that had already made their appearance in his earlier work. In Sec, for example, Man Ray's Francophile penchant is revealed in the word sec (French for dry) inscribed at the base of the dark bottle in the center of the composition that contains either wine or liquor (depending on how you interpret the Martini glass in the upper right corner of the picture).

In Filter, the artist's interest in machines and machinist imagery, which he had explored in works dating from as early as 1915, is more overtly acknowledged. In this case, however, the machine part he has depicted does not come from a car or some other example of modern technology, but - like Duchamp's readymades - is an ordinary utilitarian item. Indeed, Man Ray's choice of a coffee filter may have been inspired by Duchamp's earlier painting Coffee Mill (Tate Gallery, London). Man Ray would not have been familiar with the painting itself, for at the time it still hung on the wall of Duchamp's brother's kitchen in France, but he might have known it through its reproduction in Gleizes and Metzinger's book Cubism.[9] In subject, the stark isolation of such a commonplace manufactured item bears an even greater resemblance to Duchamp's two versions of the Chocolate Grinder, which by this date Man Ray certainly would have known through exhibitions in New York or through visits to the Arensberg apartment, where both of these paintings hung on the wall of the main sitting room. [10]

While the use of a palette knife may have liberated Man Ray from the traditional tools of a painter, the resultant textural effect was in direct contrast to the precisely defined forms of an industrially manufactured object. Moreover, the palette knife was not an instrument that lent itself easily to filling in detailed areas of background color, and perhaps for this reason, in a number of his paintings from this period - such as Filter (fig. 176), The Ship "Narcissus" (fig. 177), and Arrangement of Forms (fig. 178) - Man Ray allowed the paintings' natural support to serve as the primary background coloration of the image.

In The Ship "Narcissus," onto the surface of a thick, oval-shaped breadboard, Man Ray has depicted the hull, smokestack, and details from the upper deck of a large seafaring vessel. These geometric shapes are set against the natural brown tonality of the wood, as if to suggest that the exposed background material was meant to be equated with the open expanse of the surrounding sea. The pronounced degree of abstraction in this picture has caused at least two authors to incorrectly identify its subject, seeing in the image the forms of a narcissus plant growing in a pot.[11] Knowing the correct title, however, allows us to identify a specific image the artist may have consulted in painting this picture: an ink sketch he made many years earlier of men painting a smokestack on a large steamship (fig. 34). Although everything in the painting is more schematically rendered, certain details were carried over: the smokestack in the center of the image, a railing in the foreground, and even a semblance of the hanging scaffolding, retained in the form of lines emanating from a black circle in the upper left corner of the painting.

As was noted, this image was painted onto the surface of an ordinary breadboard, an unusual support for painting, but one the artist selected in order to affect the way in which viewers would comprehend the image. He was no longer interested in capturing the essence of a three-dimensional object in two dimensions, as artists had since the Renaissance, but rather in presenting the two-dimensional object for what it was: a physical entity that occupies space and inhabits the very environment occupied by the viewer. It may have been a similar line of reasoning that caused Man Ray to paint his next picture, Arrangement of Forms (fig. 178), onto the surface of heavy construction board, a building material made from a thin slab of concrete covered by paper that was used for the construction of interior walls (similar to today's plasterboard). This material would certainly have lent the painting a more enhanced physical presence, for painting on its surface was the equivalent of painting directly on a wall, just as the fresco painters of the Renaissance, for whom he had earlier professed such strong admiration, had done.

Arrangement of Forms is aptly named, for the theme that may have inspired this picture is so thoroughly interfused with its abstract shapes and colors that the subject is no longer discernible. Fragments of what appears to be mechanical imagery are set against less defined and only partially contained areas of pure, unmodulated color, all of which in turn is given the appearance of hovering in suspension against the brown tonalities of the exposed paper support. But the harsh juxtaposition of an impasto surface (created by the continued use of a palette knife) against a wholly unarticulated background plane serves only to enhance the expressive and painterly qualities of the image, precisely the impression Man Ray said he wanted to avoid. "My efforts [during] the last couple of years," he later said of his artistic goals in this period, "had been in the direction of freeing myself totally from painting and its aesthetic implications."[12]

"I wanted to find something new," he later proclaimed in an interview, "something where I would no longer need an easel, paint, and all the other paraphernalia of the traditional painter."[13] The solution presented itself in the form of a mechanical device he had learned to use in his commercial work: the airbrush, essentially an instrument used by illustrators to produce a light, even spray of ink or paint. The airbrush was usually employed to cover large areas with color or to create the convincing impression of reflective surfaces and shadows. In order to control the precise direction of spray, it was necessary to fabricate templates of varying shapes and sizes. But it was not the potential of the airbrush to create illusionistic techniques that excited Man Ray about the use of this instrument in his work. His obsession with remaining exclusively within the confines of a purely two-dimensional art was over. Instead, he sought to explore any alternative that would take him beyond the confines of traditional painting. "When I discovered the airbrush," he said, "it was a revelation - it was wonderful to be able to paint a picture without touching the canvas; this was a pure cerebral activity. It was also like painting in 3-D; to obtain the desired effects you had to move the airbrush nearer or farther from the canvas."[14]

Although Man Ray may not have been aware of it at the time, there is a certain similarity of procedure between the airbrush technique and the process of printing in photography, the skill he had taught himself a few years earlier in order to take pictures of his painting. Just as the light must be partially obstructed or filtered through a translucent plane in photography (the negative), before making its impression on photosensitive paper, the ink or pigment forced through the nozzle of an airbrush must first be placed in temporary suspension with the atmosphere, whereupon, through the use of varying obstructing devices (templates), it is allowed to rest in selected areas on the surface of the paper or canvas. Indeed, since he tended to employ only a monochromatic range of colors in his airbrush pictures, it has frequently been noted that Man Ray's aerographs (the generic term used to describe these pictures) often take on the appearance of photographic prints - a curious resemblance, for later in life the artist would also be accused of trying to make his photographs look like paintings.[15]

One of Man Ray's first aerographs - and the only one to survive from the year when he began his experiments with this technique - is known today by the title Suicide (fig. 179). Originally the work was entitled "The Theatre of the Soul," the name given to a play by Nikolai Evreinof, the Russian director and playwright known for his theatrical parodies, satires, and monodramas (plays written for a single performer in which spectators were invited to participate).[16]

In the magazine TNT (fig. 197), Man Ray later published the complete text of this play in an English translation.[17] It is unlikely that the work was ever intended for actual production, although performances were later staged in England and America. "The action," Evreinof directed, "passes in the soul in the period of half a second." The principal character is identified only as a professor, who, before the curtain rises, appears before the audience to explain the characters and the action that will follow. "'The Theatre of the Soul,'" the professor explains, "is a genuinely scientific work, in every respect abreast with the latest developments in psychophysiology." Acknowledging that his analyses are dependent upon the researches of Wundt, Freud, and Theophile Ribot, he goes on to divide the human soul into three divisions: the Rational, Emotional, and Subliminal Entities of the Soul, which, when combined, represent what he calls "the great integral self" or "the entire personality." On a blackboard, the professor then proceeds to illustrate the dramatic situation that will follow in the play itself. Evreinof has the professor describe this diagram as follows:


This plan, ladies and gentlemen, represents, as no doubt you can see, a large heart, with the beginning of its main red artery. It makes from 55 to 125 pulsations a minute, and lies between the two lungs which fill and empty themselves from fourteen to eighteen times a minute. Here you see a little system of nerves, threads of nerves, pale in color, and constantly agitated by vibration which we will compare with a telephone.


According to Man Ray, Suicide was meant to represent "the dramatic situation on the professor's blackboard."[18] Although the various abstract elements in the aerograph do not exactly conform to a literal visualization of the professor's words, Man Ray may have intended to let the two seemingly suspended ovoid forms in the foreground of the composition represent the lungs mentioned in the professor's description, while the triangular configuration of lines in the upper center was probably meant to illustrate the system of nerves. On the other hand, it is also possible that Man Ray may have intended the oval shapes to represent the main characters in the actual play itself: the Rational and Emotional Entities of the Soul, who, throughout the performance, argue with one another over the respective virtues and vices of a wife and cabaret singer, each of whom is envisioned in alternating conceptions by the opposing states of the soul. Eventually, the cabaret singer triumphs over the wife, and, after being rejected by the singer, the Emotional Entity of the Soul despairs and begs to be shot with a revolver, which is accomplished in the closing moments of the play. Since the Emotional and Rational Entities are actually one and the same, representing opposing states of the self, this act could be interpreted as a suicide.

It is likely this interpretation of Evreinof's play that provided Man Ray with the rationale for later retitling this work, inscribing the single word suicide at the base of the picture, and allowing a photo of the aerograph to be published in 1924 as his sole response to a question directed to the Surrealists by André Breton: "Is Suicide a Solution?"[19] It was probably in this period - and not contemporary with the making of the picture, as several authors have believed - that, inspired by its title, the artist contemplated the possibility of using this work to play a part in his own suicide.[20] Apparently in a moment of severe depression, he considered rigging up a gun behind the picture so that, with a string attached to the trigger, he could look directly into the image and kill himself. But for a number of reasons, he decided against the idea. There was the thought that his suicide might give pleasure to some people, not one of the results he wanted to achieve.[21] Also, "I'd be accused of committing suicide with a mechanical instrument," as he later explained, adding, "When I began painting with the airbrush I had already been accused of debasing art by painting with a mechanical instrument."[22]

Even though nothing as drastic as suicide was on Man Ray's mind in 1917, he must have been concerned with the fact that his work was probably only understood by a handful of close friends and his shows resulted in few sales. It was not that he wanted to be accepted by the general public. "I can only deal with one or two people at a time," he later told an interviewer. "I never think of the public, of pleasing them, or arousing their interests." In fact, by the end of his life, Man Ray developed a genuine resentment and animosity toward the public: "I despise them," he said, "just as much as they have despised me through the years - for the things I've done."[23] Nevertheless, it must have been frustrating for the young artist to realize that his most recent experiments failed to attract the interest of at least one or two discerning collectors of modern art.

It must have been with this predicament in mind that in July of 1917 he wrote to the well-known lawyer and collector John Quinn, asking him to consider the possibility of purchasing one of his works. In his letter, Man Ray pointed out the general prosperity of the art market, indicating that he was part of a small group of young artists excluded from this success because of his "individual ideas." He invited Quinn to visit his studio, where he could submit various works to the collector for purchase consideration. In a characteristically nasty response, and one that could only halfheartedly be considered apologetic, Quinn explained that under no circumstances would he allow an artist's personal needs to enter into his decision pertaining to the acquisition of works for his collection. "I have done my share," he wrote, "and I think more than my share of 'encouraging your artists' or of buying the work of men with 'individual ideas.'"[24]

Man Ray's training as a mechanical draftsman, and his continued access to the tools and technical equipment of the trade during his employment for a map and atlas publisher, served the artist well in these years, as he increasingly sought to remove himself from the "romantic expressionistic" style of his earlier work, and produce a style that reflected the precise, linear, and more mechanically generated forms of an emergent machine aesthetic. It may have been for these reasons that in this period the artist experimented with a technique known as the cliché verre, a process whereby a drawing is incised onto the surface of a coated plate of glass, which in turn is used in the fashion of a photographic negative; the plate is exposed against a sheet of sensitized paper, resulting in a contact print of the image that could be reproduced in an unlimited edition.[25]

In 1917 Man Ray produced no fewer than five cliché verre prints, images that vary as greatly as the style of his work in this period. They could range from a straightforward portrayal of a standing female figure seen from behind (fig. 180 perhaps Adon Lacroix) to what appears to be an entirely abstract image (fig. 181).[26] The subject of at least one print was derived from the artist's earlier interest in musical themes: Orchestra (fig. 182) includes the neck of a bass viol, a chair, and a number of music stands placed in precarious balance for a conspicuously absent orchestral ensemble. The only indication of the missing musicians is found in the form of four claw-like mechanical hands, one of which appears to be grasping the neck of the viol. Indeed, from this point onward in Man Ray's artistic production, the human presence was to be increasingly diminished, either severely abstracted, represented only metaphorically, or, as in most cases, eliminated altogether.

In a cliché verre entitled Automaton (fig. 183), three robotic mannequins are assigned the duties of human musicians, the sound they generate as mute and as empty as their bodies. And in another cliché verre, entitled Fire Escape and Umbrellas (fig. 184), the people who might have been seated in a streetside café at the base of the image are hidden from sight by a cluster of parasols. The subject of this scene may have been inspired by a view from the window of Man Ray's attic studio; the design of the three-story fire escape and crisscrossing electrical wires lend themselves readily to the linear quality of the cliché verre technique. Finally, a rooftop ventilator on the far right of this image is the very object Man Ray had used (albeit in a more highly stylized fashion) in a painting made a year earlier, Love Fingers (fig. 170).

For Man Ray, the year 1918 was a period of limited activity and sharply curtailed artistic production. His relationship with Adon Lacroix was not improving, and socially the war years in New York were not as nonchalant and free-spirited, nor as openly optimistic, as times gone by. In March, Man Ray showed a landscape in the Exhibition of Contemporary Art at the Penguin Club, and in April he was represented by the painting The Ship "Narcissus" (fig. 177) at the Second Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists - the only two public showings of work by the artist recorded in this entire year.[27] In June, Duchamp left for Buenos Aires, to remain absent from New York for over a year and a half. Meanwhile, in this period Man Ray seems to have worked intermittently in a variety of media. On at least one occasion he continued his experiments with the palette knife, producing an abstract painting of irregular shapes defined entirely by layers of thickly modulated pigment (fig. 185). This is a most unusual painting by the artist, for it is known to exist in two separate versions (fig. 186), one image so perfectly replicating the other that until recently they were believed to be the same painting. Moreover, although both of these paintings are today signed and dated by the artist "Man Ray / 1924," from a record kept by the artist of works from this period, we know that the original painting was made in 1918 and that the pattern of white dots to the right of center in both paintings is conspicuously absent from the original composition (fig. 187) [28]

What accounts for multiple versions of the same painting is difficult to say, but there can be little doubt that these paintings represent Man Ray's most abstract work of these years. In both works, angular color planes are carefully defined by means of a palette knife, their surfaces so emphatically textural that the image is more readily comprehended for its material presence than for any illusionistic properties one might associate with the art of painting. Indeed, as if to underscore this very point, in certain passages the artist applied unmodulated areas of black pigment, which at first glance can be interpreted as areas of shadow. But these same dark passages hover conspicuously in a cruciform format in the lower left portion of the composition, defying our spatial comprehension of the image by visually fusing foreground and background planes. Finally, with the edge of his palette knife, Man Ray applied thin lines of black paint to the surface of three angular shapes in the lower center of the painting. These lines resemble primitive calligraphic markings, the centermost of which takes on the shape of the artist's own monogram. Combined with the textural buildup of pigment and the work's self-referential title - both versions are simply called Painting - the lines applied to the surface reinforce our reading of the painting as an object, an effect the artist certainly strove to attain.

The years 1918 and 1919 saw the production of Man Ray's most accomplished and successful airbrush paintings. The subjects for these pictures were either derived from his immediate environment or inspired by an event he had recently witnessed. "I'd start with a definite subject," he explained, "something I had seen - nudes, an interior, a ballet with Spanish dancers, or even some odd miscellaneous objects lying about which I used as stencils, but the result was always a more abstract pattern."[29] The most interesting aerograph of 1918 (fig. 188), however, may have been more abstract than the subject of its inspiration, but the figurative content is certainly more easily recognized than it was in the artist's painted rendition of this same subject two years earlier (fig. 159).

In the aerograph - which was given the same title as the earlier painting, The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows - the form of a precariously balanced rope dancer and her surrounding shadows are immediately apparent. In this work, however, the various positions and amorphic distortions given to the shadows appear to have been determined literally, that is, by the actual deflection of four separate beams of white light cast against the surface of a rather abstractly conceived and sharply delineated shape meant to represent the rope dancer. In following such a procedure, the precise contours and positions of the shadows could have been recorded by first tracing their silhouettes lightly in pencil, then fashioning various irregularly shaped stencils to help guide the flow and direction of sprayed pigment. In an aerograph of this type, then, the suspended paint functions in the same capacity as light, which is only allowed to leave its physical impression on a given surface in areas where it is allowed to penetrate without obstruction. Conversely, in the airbrush paintings, shadows are generated in areas where the flow of pigment is intentionally obstructed. Thus, perhaps unwittingly, Man Ray has treated the surface of this particular aerograph in very much the same fashion as a light-sensitive plate, allowing the surface of his picture to preserve not only the accurate record of an image but also the physical impression of its cast shadows (a procedure that closely parallels the technique used in the making of rayographs, a unique photographic process Man Ray would not develop until after his move to Paris in 1921).

This second rendition of The Rope Dancer was followed by a sketch simply entitled Memo for Aerographs (fig. 189). This drawing was appropriately named, for along with three rope dancers - taken with little variation from the sketch of 1916 (fig. 161) - Man Ray has here combined a number of themes derived from his earlier work with those of subjects that he would explore in several subsequent paintings. In the lower left corner of this sketch, for example, automatons and their musical instruments are recalled from a cliché verre made the previous year (fig. 183), while, as in the finished aerograph (fig. 188), beams of light can be seen shining down on the rope dancer in the upper center of the composition. Surrounding the indistinctly rendered forms of the rope dancer in this sketch, however, are details derived from a group of Spanish dancers, a subject that would be more precisely defined in an oil painting of 1918 (fig. 190), as well as in an aerograph made the following year entitled Seguidilla (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.).[30]

The subject of these pictures was inspired by Man Ray's attendance at a performance given by a group of Spanish dancers. He made a special study of the female dancer (fig. 191), the hem of her lace skirt spun into a circular pattern at the base of the drawing, as the dancer herself is shown spinning to the pulsating beat of clicking castanets held tightly in the palms of her hand. In the final composition (fig. 190), Man Ray elected to depict the male dancer, his black pants and lower torso visible in the background, dancing on a tabletop, while five white fans were meant to represent the surrounding female dancers. Cones of black Spanish lace reinforce the ethnic identity of the subject; the three umbrella-like shapes barely visible in the upper right corner were probably inspired by the whirling skirts of the Spanish dancers.

It was in the 1918-1919 period, coincident with his development and refinement of the aerographic technique, that Man Ray's marital problems took a critical turn for the worse. With the artist devoting more and more time to his work, Adon Lacroix justifiably complained that she no longer received the degree of amorous attention she desired. Before long, she sought the affections of another man, a young Cuban farmer by the name of Luis Delmonte, who had recently moved to America and was working in New York as an office clerk. The two began to see more and more of one another, and eventually Man Ray grew to find his domestic situation intolerable. He decided that the only solution was to present as little opposition as possible to her intentions and move out.

Even if Man Ray had not been having marital difficulties, he still needed a larger space in which to work, so he asked his landlady if she had any other apartments for rent. Without any vacancies at the time, she offered the artist a large space in the brownstone next door, a basement room she had been using primarily for storage. As soon as the room was cleared out, the artist moved in, asking his landlady if she would leave a few miscellaneous items behind that he might find some use for in the future: a table, some chairs, a bed, and some old dress forms, which the artist said he wanted because "they seemed to furnish the place with a substitute for human company."[31] He also asked his landlady to leave an old sign hanging on the wall that read NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR GOODS LEFT OVER 30 DAYS (fig. 192). Initially, he had planned to rearrange the words to read LEFT OVER GOODS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR 30 DAYS, a word-order change that would have closely paralleled Duchamp's earlier alteration of the letters in a metal advertising sign in a rectified readymade entitled Apolinère Enameled of 1916-1917 (Philadelphia Museum of Art; Arensberg Collection). But Man Ray never got around to realizing his intentions, claiming that the thought alone was sufficient. "I never made the change," he later explained, "being satisfied with simply imagining the transformation."[32]

The new basement studio was surprisingly spacious and comfortable, with exceptionally high ceilings and a large fireplace. In order to make the space feel more lived in, the artist displayed a number of paintings and drawings around the room, including (on the far right wall) his aerograph of the Rope Dancer (fig. 188). He unrolled his large Tapestry Painting of 1913 (fig. 43) and used it as a tablecloth (a typewriter and books rested upon it), and he hung a large unstretched canvas composed of mechanical diagrams and chess figures on the main expanse of wall between two large rectangular pilasters with carved Corinthian capitals, decorative enhancements to the Victorian architecture that gave the room a classical yet warm and inviting appearance. Man Ray would occupy this studio/apartment for his remaining years in New York, and it was in these inauspicious surroundings that his work would rapidly develop into a more self-consciously conceptual and uniquely individualistic style.

At first it was the surroundings themselves that provided the subject matter for his new work. In a period when most Americans were preoccupied with the war effort in Europe, Man Ray increasingly turned to themes inspired by the imagery in his immediate environment. Psychologically, such a decidedly introspective orientation may have been a product of the overwhelming personal problems that he had experienced at home, or it may simply have been that, in his efforts to freely explore the potential of the airbrush medium, any random assortment of objects would have provided equally suitable subjects for experimentation.

Whatever the motivation may have been, it was the environment of his studio that supplied the basic subject matter for a large painting on board entitled simply Interior (fig. 193). Here, as in the aerographs, the natural coloration of the two-dimensional surface is integrated within our visual comprehension of the depicted space, allowing the painting's support to represent the overall background upon which the various objects in the interior scene are positioned. The objects themselves consist of several pieces of furniture - a table, chair, screen, rug, and overhead lamp - and, in the center of the composition, just to the side of the paneled door on the right wall, can be seen a depiction of the artist's 1914 painting Madonna (fig. 127). The only suggestion of a human presence in this room is provided by the dressmaker's form on the far right. Knowing the details of Man Ray's difficult separation from Adon Lacroix at this time, it would be tempting to interpret this hollow, headless female form as a surrogate for his wife, symbolizing her sudden and unexpected disappearance from his life.

No matter how we interpret this lifeless mechanical form, the unclothed dressmaker's dummy served as the principal subject of an important aerograph of this period entitled La Volière (fig. 194), the French word for an aviary or large birdcage. It may be that Man Ray selected this title as an allusion to the alleged captivity of his wife, who during the time of her affair had repeatedly pleaded for more independence. Unlike in Interior, however, the various other elements in this composition are rendered in a far more abstract fashion, a particular mode of rendering to which the graphic technique naturally lent itself but to which it had rarely been applied in the past.

Exploring various methods of applying paint with the airbrush, Man Ray discovered a technique that would generate an inevitable comparison with photography. In allowing the spray of ink or pigment to trace the periphery of forms, he was applying color in almost the same way that light passes through a negative before coming to rest on photosensitive paper. When the colors he used were basically monochromatic, a comparison with the black-and-white images of photography would be that much more apparent. Like photographic prints, which were often cut into tondo formats (especially portraits), and like a number of Analytic Cubist paintings that are predominantly monochromatic, an untitled aerograph of 1918 is oval-shaped and painted in the same overall sepia tone (fig. 195). Abstract though this image appears, close inspection reveals that the central form running vertically through the center of the composition was established by allowing a light spray of pigment to outline the form of a found-object sculpture from 1918 entitled By Itself II (visible hanging on the wall on the left in the photograph of his studio: fig. 192). By manipulating the angle and direction of spray, Man Ray has created an essentially abstract image that takes on the appearance of a soft-focused Cubist painting. In conversation with Arturo Schwarz, the artist explained his procedure in words that almost appear to describe this image:


I put all kinds of things in it [in his aerographic compositions], a press for holding wood together, parts of a camera, pieces of cut out cardboard, some of my draughtsman's instruments, etc. I moved everything around and sprayed, and moved again and sprayed, changing their position all the time. I was doing a Cubist painting with a new technique and with curves instead of straight lines.[33]


The subtle tonal graduations that were possible with the airbrush made it an especially useful tool for commercial illustrators, who were frequently required to produce a convincing rendition of reflected light on smooth, industrially produced metallic surfaces. Man Ray used the airbrush for precisely this purpose when he turned the subject of this machine upon itself and produced a work appropriately entitled My First Born (fig. 196). In this aerograph, the artist has portrayed selected details of the compressor and motor assembly that powered the spray of this large and cumbersome mechanical device. In using the title My First Born, Man Ray was not identifying this work as his first aerograph but rather suggesting that this object gave birth to many works created by means of this new and exciting method. In this respect, he may have been inspired by Picabia's characterization of the machine as a "girl born without a mother."[34]

My First Born was reproduced in Man Ray's TNT, the single-issue review that appeared only once, in March of 1919 (fig. 197). Of all the aerographs he had completed up to that point, the artist selected a reproduction of this particular work to illustrate his publication of Evreinof's "The Theatre of the Soul," the play that inspired the making of his first aerographic picture, Suicide (fig. 179). Although it is not clear from the context alone, the connection Man Ray may have had in mind is that it was this particular Russian play that provided the subject - or, in metaphorical terms, gave birth to - his first artistic application of the airbrush.

Years later, Man Ray described TNT as "a political paper with a very radical slant," and he also claimed that it was "a tirade against industrialists, the exploiters of workers."[35] But other than the magazine's explosive title - which ran across the cover in large black letters above the reproduction of an abstract bronze sculpture by Adolf Wolff - there was little in the publication that could be even remotely construed as a reference to anything politically subversive. Henry McBride, who reviewed the new magazine for his column in the Sun, mistakenly identified the subject of My First Born as "the study of an electric fan," and he found the entire review "droll" and "not particularly amusing." He especially disliked the quality of printing, which, he said, was "monotonous" and resembled "commercial reports that are usually fired into the waste basket without a glance."[36]

In strictly visual terms, perhaps the most refined and elegant airbrush drawing from this period is Admiration of the Orchestrelle for the Cinematograph (fig. 198); its meaning, however, remains the most difficult and cryptic of all the aerographs' to decipher. Against a background of gray construction paper, the artist has portrayed two umbrella-like shapes hovering above the ghostly forms of two floating disks. The "umbrella" in the center of the composition appears closed, while the one below it is spread open, with two thin, converging red lines accentuating the ascent of its vertical axis. At the top of these lines is an amorphic projection of letters - twisting in space like the advertising streamers carried behind small airplanes - which spell out the cryptic message ABANDON THE SAFETY VALVE. Finally, rising vertically in a ladder of rectangular compartments up the left side of the page is an irregular progression of numbers, all painstakingly executed in fine lines of striking red gouache.

Perhaps the most informative description of this work comes from the artist himself, who in 1954 was asked by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to fill out a questionnaire explaining the meaning of this work (although the museum had acquired the work some seventeen years earlier). When asked if there were any exceptional circumstances or incidents that led to the creation of this aerograph or its subsequent history, Man Ray responded, "The technique and motive are so bound together that at first glance the painting is almost invisible." To describe the subject, he supplied the following statement:


The forms, I think, were suggested by an old-fashioned phonograph-horn, which in turn suggested a morning glory. The ladder to one side bears a series of numbers which is the progressive ratio in the development of a spiral - a form that occurred in man-made works as well as in nature. The title is a poetic addition, and in no way describes the painting. I like a literary title - it doesn't change or affect the work.[37]


In spite of Man Ray's dismissal of the title as a key to understanding this work, in a recent catalogue published by the Museum of Modern Art (written by John Elderfield, then the museum's curator of drawings), the word admiration is taken for its literal implications, and the work is interpreted as a sexual machine, to be compared with Duchamp's exploration of this very theme in his most important work of these years, The Large Glass. "The female 'Orchestrelle,'" Elderfield writes, "leans over invitingly to the beaming Cinematograph." The progression of numbers is then seen to represent a growing crescendo of amorous activity. "And in a strip up the side of the drawing," he writes, "even, passion begins rising, then reaches a climax and crosses the edge of the sheet."[38]

No matter how we interpret the subject of this aerograph, there can be little doubt that at the time of its creation the new and highly innovative technique the artist employed was of greater importance for him than the thematic origins of the work. Asked on the same questionnaire to comment on the technique, quality, and significance of this drawing, he prepared the following explanation:


The use of the airbrush and mechanical drawing instruments in creating a work of art [was] being frowned at; this would serve my purpose in painting a picture that did not cater to the taste for sloppy virtuosity. It was my object to express an idea almost photographically - before I took up photography - and remove all traces of manual dexterity.
It was a relief to carry out an idea like blowing one's breath on a windowpane. While the preparation and care involved in creating an idea by this means were more laborious than painting directly on canvas, the results fully justified the effort which became invisible. The idea remained clear and direct.
This was a period of reaction to sensuous painting, leading into the dada spirit. If there was any shocking to do, I wanted to be the first to feel its effects, since like others I had been for years smearing paint on canvas with brushes.


It is clear, then, that Man Ray developed the aerographic process primarily to explore an artistic technique that departed from that of traditional painting. As he indicated in this statement, by this time his opposing and reactionary spirit was fueled by an ever-increasing desire to affiliate himself with the Dada movement. Whatever his intentions, when these works were shown for the first time in Man Ray's third and last one-person exhibition at the Daniel Gallery in November of 1919 (fig. 199), they were not particularly well received, neither by the general public nor by the conservative press. As Man Ray recalled, the critics responded to the exhibition with "a hue-and-cry," accusing him of having "vulgarized and debased art," because of his brash and blatant use of mechanical and commercial instruments.[39]

In this exhibition, Man Ray showed a selection of eighteen works that had been produced during the course of the previous six years, from paintings that had been made during the time of his stay in Ridgefield - more traditional works, which his dealer preferred-to the most recent examples of the new airbrush technique. The series of ten collages known as The Revolving Doors was also shown (figs. 162-165), and it was in this exhibition that they were first displayed as a group, each panel framed and hinged to one another in a circular format, resembling the general appearance of a revolving door.[40] When Daniel asked Man Ray to provide him with some sort of an explanation for these works, so that he might better inform critics and potential clients, the artist flatly refused. Indeed, Alanson Hartpence, Daniel's advisor and assistant in the gallery, told Man Ray not to divulge any technical details. If he had to say something about his work, Hartpence maintained, he should speak only "in general abstract terms," making the works themselves appear as mysterious as possible.[41] Naturally, such an attitude must have frustrated the former owner of a saloon, and the total lack of sales probably perturbed him even more. Man Ray's dedication and complete commitment to his current work, however, prevented the artist from even considering the possibility of turning back to an earlier, more conventional style. With such completely differing concerns, a clash between the artist and his dealer was inevitable. Without Hartpence's intervention, Man Ray recalled, Daniel surely would have eliminated his name from the roster of artists whose work he represented at the gallery.

At least one critic objected to Man Ray's selection of such elaborate titles: Hamilton Easter Field thought they interfered with an appreciation of the essentially abstract message contained within the works themselves, which he felt was more important. But he liked Man Ray's use of commercial instruments. "In his hands," wrote Field, "the despised air brush has created beauty."[42] But it was precisely his use of these instruments that other critics found objectionable. Royal Cortissoz, the notoriously conservative art editor of the New York Tribune, failed to make any sense of the show whatsoever and seized the occasion to condemn all forms of modernist experimentation:


Mr. Ray's diagrammatic works would seem to aim at the expression of emotion through symbolical terms, strange patterns of line and painted surface in which only the extreme modernist could detect an equivalent for ordinary pictorial intent.
We have endeavored with the best will in the world to ascertain the abstract meaning of the artist's purpose. Whatever it may be, we cannot detect in it any relation to the production of a work of art. Fantasticalities of this sort are believed in some quarters to acquire all the validity they need from the artist's inner conviction that what he is doing is worth doing. They will have to justify themselves on broader grounds before they can be taken seriously.[43]


A considerably more impartial view of the exhibition was provided by C. Lewis Hind, art columnist for the Christian Science Monitor.[44] In comparison with the close-minded approach of Cortissoz, Hind made a far more honest and concerted effort to understand the unfamiliar works in this exhibition. After having seen the show three times, he followed up his interest with a visit to the artist's studio. Thus, his review of the exhibition is especially important, as it indirectly relays the artist's ideas about his work in this period. Hind described The Revolving Doors as "flat and geometrical, never plastic and representative." Man Ray had "abjured plasticity," he wrote, "had banished the third dimension." The Revolving Doors, he observed, "were all in two dimensions." Noting that the series was made entirely of collage - and not painted, as he had originally thought - Hind went on to say that he learned directly from the artist that this method was adopted as "a protest against the importance that has been, and is, accorded to technique." On this point he elaborated further:


He [Man Ray] strives to escape from technique, to give not a quality of paint, but a quality of idea. He wants to work in a medium that is already controlled, like musical notes, so that he can give all his thought to inventive form and line in two dimensional aspects: he wants his painting to be unworried by tactile values (which Mr. Berenson adores) and to show not handiwork but the idea at the back of it.
Carrying on this notion of negation, of protest against the obtrusive handiwork of technique, he shows in the next room a group of paintings that are produced entirely by the air brush. He invents the design, schemes the colours with mathematical precision, and then squirts the colour on the board, always exactly following his formula. To him the idea and the abstract realization are everything; the concrete carrying out of the idea he maintains is mechanical, and can be done by anybody with a little training. Mr. Ray looks forward to the time when pupils, with air brushes, will repeat a master's design in colour a dozen, a hundred times, as often as needed by the public.


This highly informed account indicates that by this time Man Ray had made a definitive break from a strict reliance on the formalist theories of painting that had so thoroughly dominated the production of his earlier work. Moreover, the tenets of a more conceptual, or Dada-oriented approach to the art-making process already appear to have been ingrained within his artistic sensibilities. This change, as others have frequently pointed out, owes a considerable debt to Duchamp, who by this time had become Man Ray's closest friend and collaborator. Duchamp believed that a mechanical technique helped to depersonalize the work of art, ridding it of the overbearing effect of an artist's ego. He also maintained that art should avoid the "retinal" approach, as he referred to it, and that it should instead be a "cerebral" act. The notion of the idea taking precedence over form has one inevitable result: painting as an exercise in the exploration of formal properties will stop.

Indeed, other than occasional experiments in later years, after 1919 Man Ray painted only when some other medium was not appropriate for the expression of a specific thought. The extent to which Man Ray had hoped his ideas would take precedence over the objects he created to represent them (a conceptual position that anticipated developments in modern art by some fifty years) can be found in the artist's response to questions posed by a newspaper reporter in February 1921. He was asked to explain the concept of "tactilism," a term that had been promoted in this period to accentuate the physical, three-dimensional values of a work of art. "I want to eliminate the material," he replied, "show the idea." For Man Ray, it was no longer enough for artists to simply provide their audience with a simulation of objects found in their everyday environment. "We don't want a record of the actual object," he said. "We want a result of it."



1. SP, p.71.

2. Although this statement is unsigned, it was probably written by the gallery's owner, Stephan Bourgeois, a French dealer who had helped in the organization of the Armory Show and who in 1914 opened a gallery in New York devoted to the showing of American and European modern art (see Exhibition of Modern Art, Arranged by a Group of European and American Artists in New York, Bourgeois Galleries, New York, February 10 - March 10, 1917).

3. The society was organized in the fall of 1916 in meetings held at the home of John Covert, who served as the organization's first secretary. Man Ray was listed as one of the society's twenty founding directors on an announcement that was circulated to the public in January of 1917 (a copy of this four-page document was brought to my attention by Garnett McCoy). On this exhibition and the public's critical response, see Francis Naumann, "'The Big Show': The First Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists," part 1, Artforum 17, no. 6 (February 1979), pp. 34-39, and 2, "The Critics," Artforum 17, no. 8 (April 1979), pp. 49-53, and Naumann, "The Independents," New York Dada, 1915-23 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), ch. 8, pp. 176-191. Most of the foregoing account is derived from these sources.

4. See Rudi Blesh, Modern Art USA: Men, Rebellion, Conquest, 1900-1956 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 71.

5. SP, p.71.

6. From a questionnaire circulated by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (Artists' Files, Department of Painting and Sculpture); although undated, this questionnaire was likely completed in the mid-1950s (see ch. 7, n. 23). In a questionnaire filled out for another museum, the artist was even more emphatic in expressing his opinion of juries: "Unless unconditionally invited," he wrote, "I have never submitted a work to an exhibition where a jury functioned, nor entered a work in competition for a prize; therefore no honors!" (Artists' Files, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, dated March 23, 1956).

7. Frederick James Gregg, "A New Kind of Art Exhibition," Vanity Fair, May 1917, p. 47.

8. Quoted in Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of lmagination (New York: Rizzoli, 1977), p. 39.

9. The painting was reproduced in both the French and English editions of this book (see Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du Cubisme [Paris: Eugène Figuière, 1912] and Cubism [London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1913], p. 123).

10. By 1917 both versions of the Chocolate Grinder had been given at least two public showings in New York (in the Third Exhibition of Contemporary French Art at the Carroll Gallery in March 1915 and at the Exhibition of Modern Art at the Bourgeois Gallery in April 1916). One of Man Ray's visits to the Arensberg apartment is recalled in his autobiography (SP p. 70). These two paintings are visible in photographs of the Arensberg apartment taken by Charles Sheeler in 1919 (see Naumann, New York Dada, pp. 26-27).

11. See Schwarz, Man Ray, p. 38, and Jean-Hubert Martin, Man Ray, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, December 10 - April 12, 1982, cat. no. 15, p. 5. Even though this painting was reproduced with the title The Ship "Narcissus" in Georges Ribemont-Dessaigne's monograph on the artist (Man Ray [Paris: Librarie Gallimard, 1924], p. 29), apparently neither one of these authors realized it.

12. SP p. 82.

13. Schwarz, Man Ray, p. 39.

14. Ibid.

15. See, for example, SP p. 145, and Man Ray, "Photography Can Be Art," in Jean-Hubert Martin, ed., Man Ray Photographs (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1981), p. 34.

16. We know the title Man Ray originally gave this work from information provided in the Artist's Card File (document C, no. 105). On Evreinof, see Michael T. Florinsky, ed., McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Russia and the Soviet Union (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), p. 617, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, "Yevreinov, Nikolai Nikolayevich," Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, Horatio Smith, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1947), pp. 880-881.

17. All quotations that follow are taken from the text reprinted in TNT.

18. From Man Ray's Card File (see document C, no. 105).

19. See André Breton, ed., "Le Suicide est-il une solution?" La Revolution Surréaliste 2 (January 15, 1925), p. 12.

20. See the description of this painting by Arturo Schwarz, who concluded that its title "relates to the spiritual crisis that he [Man Ray] suffered in 1917" (Man Ray, p. 40), as well as the analysis by Roland Penrose, who believed that this painting was "a witness to the reality of his [Man Ray's] state of despair" (Man Ray [Boston: New York Graphic Society; 1975], pp. 48-50).

21. As reported by Penrose (Man Ray, p. 50), who does not, however, provide a specific credit reference for his quotation of the artist's words (they were taken from a letter from Man Ray to Dominique de Menu, October 20, 1973; quoted in Gray Is the Color, Rice University, Houston, October 19 - January 19, 1974, p. 130).

22. Quoted, without acknowledging a source, by Schwarz (Man Ray, p. 40). A few years after this image had become identified with the general theme of death, Man Ray incorporated this aerograph in a 1926 photograph that he entitled Suicide (reproduced in Martin, Man Ray Photographs, p. 45). In this image, the artist carefully positioned a model before the picture in such a way that her features are reflected into the glass directly over one of the two ovoid shapes (or "Entities," as they were identified above), while at point-blank range she aims a revolver into the center of the composition. Although this photograph may represent only the fanciful staging of an idea, the actual possibility of suicide continued to fascinate the artist, as it did many of the Surrealists. And in a particularly low period of his life, brought on by poor health and continued bouts of insomnia, Man Ray later confessed that on at least one occasion he actually did seriously consider the possibility of taking his own life (SP, p. 249).

23. See "Interview with Man Ray," in Martin, Man Ray Photographs, p. 37 (the name of the person who conducted this interview with Man Ray is unknown and not provided in the publication). Man Ray frequently spoke out against the notion of placing so much reliance on the opinions of critics: "I had never paid much attention to criticisms," he wrote. "If I had taken them at their word I would probably never have accomplished anything. If fact, if I had any doubts about my work, adverse criticism convinced me I was on the right track" (SP, pp. 337-338). While living in Hollywood, the artist published a brief essay that was devoted to precisely this subject (see Man Ray, "Art in Sanity," California Arts and Architecture 8 [January 1941], pp. 19, 36-37).

24. Man Ray to John Quinn, July 31, 1917, and Quinn to Man Ray, August 6, 1917 (Quinn Papers, Manuscript Division, New York Public Library).

25. Although it had only gained prominence during the twentieth century, the cliché verre technique had been employed in producing works of art by a number of important French artists in the nineteenth century (see Aaron Scharf, Art and Photography [Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1968], p. 33).

26. In his card file of works from this period, Man Ray called these works "silverprints" (see document C, no. 122). In his card file, he listed the titles of five works, one of which was called "Harbor." Knowing this, it may be that the most abstract of these images (fig. 181) was derived from a scene of boats in a harbor.

27. Exhibition [of] Contemporary Art, Penguin Club, New York, beginning March 16, 1918 (cat. no. 16), and The Second Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, New York, April 20 - May 12, 1918 (cat. no. 614).

28. See the Artist's Card File, document C, no. 122. The photograph reproduced here (fig. 187) is taken from the card file.

29. SP, p.73.

30. In both subject matter and composition, the aerograph (not reproduced here) is very similar to the painting (fig. 180). On Seguidilla, see Judith Zilczer, "From Mechanical Drawing to Mechanized Dance: Man Ray's 'Seguidilla,'" Drawing 11 no. 6 (March-April 1990), pp. 125-128.

31. SP, p. 85. It is difficult to determine with certainty the precise date of Man Ray's move to this basement studio. Most biographers have assumed that it took place in 1919, coincident with his split from Adon Lacroix. This year is established on the basis that in his autobiography the artist noted that he and his wife had been together for six years (SP, p. 80). Calculated from the time of their meeting in 1913, this would date their separation to sometime in 1919. However, if we can trust a date of 1918 given to a painting depicting a corner of the artist's studio interior (fig. 193), a date provided by Man Ray himself (see document C, no. 114), this move may have taken place somewhat earlier, for this painting clearly exhibits the dress form he mentions having encountered for the first time during the course of this move (SR, p. 92).

32. SP, p.86.

33. Schwarz, Man Ray, p. 50.

34. As noted by William Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life, and Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 108.

35. "This Is Not for America," interview with Arturo Schwarz, Arts 51, no. 9 (May 1977), p. 120.

36. Henry McBride, Sun, March 9, 1919, sec. 6, p. 12.

37. Although this questionnaire is not dated, Man Ray provided the following information at the close of his remarks: "The thoughts expressed here apply only to the period above, and do not necessarily express my attitudes today - 1954" (document preserved in Artists' Files, Department of Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York).

38. John Elderfield, The Modern Drawing: 100 Works on Paper from the Museum of Modern Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1983), p. 118.

39. SP, p. 76.

40. Man Ray made a drawing that shows exactly how these works were to be displayed; see Man Ray: Paintings, Objects, Photographs, Estate Sale, Sotheby's London, March 22-23, 1995, lot no. 77.

41. Man Ray's account of this incident is provided in SP, p. 76; for the texts Man Ray supplied, see document B in the present text.

42. Hamilton Easter Field, "Man Ray at the Daniel Gallery," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 30, 1919, p. 4.

43. Cortissoz, "Random Impressions in Current Exhibitions," New York Tribune, November 23, 1919, sec. 4, pp. 11, 13.

44. C. Lewis Hind, "Wanted, a Name," Christian Science Monitor, ca. November-December 1919. (exact date is unknown; clipping preserved in the scrapbooks of Katherine Dreier, Collection of the Société Anonyme, Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven; reprinted with minor variations in Hind, Art and l [New York: John Lane, 1920], pp. 180-185). In a mildly favorable review of this exhibition, Man Ray was proclaimed to be "a master of his instrument" (see "Art Notes," ed., New York Times, November 26,1919, p. 12, col. 7).

45. Quoted in Margery Rex, "If You Feel Like a Feather After a Party, You're a Tactilist," New York Evening Journal, February 11, 1921. In January 1921 a public argument took place in the Paris press between Picabia and Marinetti over exactly who it was that invented the concept of "tactilism"; Marinetti said that it was Boccioni in 1912, and Picabia argued that it was first conceived by the American sculptor Edith Clifford Williams in New York in 1916. In the American press, their exchange was billed as a struggle between Dadaism and Futurism (see, for example, "Tactilism Greeted by Dadaist Hoots," New York Times, January 17, 1921, p. 15; "Dadaists War on 'Tactilism,' Latest Art Form," Chicago Tribune, January 17, 1921; "Dadaists and Futurists," New York Times, January 18, 1921, p. 10; "Picabia and Marinetti Disagree on 'Tactilism," New York Herald, January 20, 1921; and "Fighting for the Last Word in Art," Literary Digest, February 19, 1921, p. 31).


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