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 Two Dimensions, Part I: The Paintings, Drawings, and Watercolors of 1915


In January of 1915, Man Ray and Adon Lacroix released A Book of Divers Writings (fig. 132), a lavish folio-sized publication that was designed and illustrated by Man Ray and featured examples of Lacroix's prose writing and poetry. [1] The edition was limited to only twenty copies, each bound in dark paper with covers decorated with an original drawing surmounted by a collaged strip of paper on which Man Ray's signature appeared. Shortly after the book appeared, they sent a copy to Alfred Kreymborg, in hope that he might help to publicize their efforts. In an accompanying letter, the collaborators explained that this publication represented "the epitome of our work since our partnership [began]." They further described the book as being composed of "elements from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdom - leather, paper and paint." Finally, they concluded their description with an almost mythical interpretation of their creative efforts: "Its spiritual elements are equivalents for fire, earth and water," they wrote. "They are in terms of love, life and art."[2]

A Book of Divers Writings contained a play and six poems by Adon Lacroix. Years later Man Ray described his wife's writings as "calm and lyrical," although he confessed that her poetry could be "rather awkward at times," a quality he regarded as "sincere and fresh like the paintings of naïve artists."[3] Following the title page, the first image in the publication was an ink-drawn portrait of Lacroix, where the poet's dark black eyes and furrowed lower lip give her an expression of deep concern and worry. This may have been precisely the emotional state Man Ray wanted to convey, for his wife was terrified by the fact that the war had broken out in Europe and she had not heard from her family in Belgium for six months. The most poignant poem in the publication is "War," which, like Man Ray's painting of the previous year (fig. 126), describes soldiers as mindless combatants who blindly follow orders and, without thought, mindlessly destroy their fellow man. The poem was accompanied by a line engraving of War, which, in an inscription below the image, was acknowledged as having been copied "from a painting."

The illustrations Man Ray made for this publication were all intended to serve as visual enhancements to his wife's writings. Thus the play "Pantomine" was accompanied by a fine-line pen-and-ink drawing representing actors performing on a stage, and a prose piece describing the sound of a robin in the wood, which Lacroix compares to a love call, is appropriately illustrated by a decorative border in brush-and-ink containing, at the top, the image of a bird in a thicket and, at the bottom, a pair of reclining entangled lovers. But perhaps the most succinct merger of verbal and visual interests in this publication is the drawing that Man Ray made to accompany Lacroix's poem devoted exclusively to the subject of trees: "Wild black gracefully shaped trees," as she describes their majestic presence, "standing upright and rising toward the sky." The drawing is comprised of nothing more than a grouping of dark vertical masses, a configuration clearly meant to allude to the shapes of the trees themselves, while at the same time-utilizing an approach similar to that employed in the landscape painting that was made in the same year (fig. 100) - Man Ray has ingeniously spelled out the separate letters of the poem's title: TREES.

The last drawing to appear in the publication was a self-portrait (fig. 133), an ink-and-brush drawing made in the same style as the portrait of Lacroix and clearly meant to reflect the dual and equal credit assigned to each collaborator. In contrast to the drawing made of his wife, however, Man Ray has rendered his own facial expression to suggest a more pensive mood. He may very well have been possessed of a more optimistic disposition than his wife, for he had many reasons to be encouraged about his prospects for the future, in respect not only to his private life but to his career as well.

It was probably in the early months of 1915 that Alanson Hartpence introduced him to Charles Daniel, a saloon owner who had taken an interest in modern art. Daniel operated a hotel and café with his brother on the corner of Ninth Avenue and Forty-second Street in Manhattan. Several artists and poets who frequented his establishment, including Hartpence, encouraged him to begin purchasing examples of the art that had interested him. In the years that followed, Daniel's collection grew quickly, and he soon had to open a small office on West Forty-seventh Street as a place to store his paintings and a convenient location where he could arrange to meet those American modern artists whose work interested him.[4]

But it was at his café - over beers and a sandwich - that Man Ray first met the future art dealer, the artist recalls. Hartpence, who had been advising Daniel on his purchases, had convinced the café owner to open a gallery and offered his services in the position of its director. With this future enterprise in mind, Hartpence sought out the work of modern painters who were not already represented by other galleries, and it was for this reason that he arranged a meeting with Daniel and Man Ray. Hartpence asked the artist to bring along a small example of his work, probably to test Daniel's reaction. The saloon owner reacted favorably and purchased a painting for twenty dollars, thus beginning the provision of necessary financial support that would continue throughout Man Ray's years in New York.

For the time being, Hartpence could only promise Man Ray that once Daniel opened the gallery, he would try to arrange for a showing of his work - that is, if by that time he had produced enough paintings for an exhibition. The prospect alone must have sent the artist back to Ridgefield with renewed enthusiasm. The new paintings, he might have imagined, should not only reflect his commitment to modern art but, collectively, should form a coherent body of work that would, at the same time, proclaim his independence and individuality.

In the spring of 1915, Man Ray made several trips into Manhattan to sell copies of his and Lacroix's Book of Divers Writings. One copy sold to Charles Daniel, and three were purchased by Alfred Stieglitz. Eventually, over the course of the next few months, a host of important individuals within the world of art in New York - dealers, artists, art critics, collectors - would acquire copies: Hamilton Easter Field, N. E. Montross, John Weichsel, Joseph Stella, Paul Haviland, Alvin Langdon Coburn, John Quinn, Walter Arensberg, Arthur Jerome Eddy, and others.[5] Kreymborg, we will recall, was sent a copy shortly after the publication appeared. It was a promotional effort that paid off, for the poet had been recently hired by the Morning Telegraph to write a series of human interest articles, and he decided to devote one of his alternate-weekly full-page columns to the couple and their impoverished living situation in Ridgefield (fig. 134).[6] Kreymborg focused his article, subtitled "They Live on Twenty-five Dollars a Month and Enjoy It," on how the couple managed to live happily on so little money. The lead illustration was a reproduction of Man Ray's Portrait of Adon Lacroix as it appeared in A Book of Divers Writings, as well as photographs of Man Ray working in his studio (a detail of fig. 45), Lacroix glancing through a book in her library (a detail of fig. 135), and a rare view of the cottage these artists shared.

Kreymborg reported that they paid a rent of eight dollars monthly on their four-room cottage and spent no more than ten dollars a week for everything else, although, as he pointed out, they could easily live on half that amount. He seized the opportunity to say that Man Ray's best poem was "Hieroglyphics," which had appeared in "a little volume" that was "a tribute to his wife" entitled Adovism (sic, by which, of course, he meant Adonism: fig. 99). From A Book of Divers Writings, he singled out Lacroix's "War" as a work of special significance, for, as he explained, its author was Belgian and very much concerned over the well-being of her parents in Europe. He provided readers with a complete reprint of the poem in his column. "It is, however, as a painter," Kreymborg concluded his article, "that Ray makes his principal appeal." A year earlier, he reported, the artist turned the garret of their cottage into an art gallery. "That garret exhibition was a notable little pilgrimage for those who braved the adventure," he explained. "But one does not have to travel to Ridgefield to see Ray's work these days. There are always several examples on display at the Daniel Gallery at 2 West Forty-seventh street, just off the avenue."

"Ray's paintings, like the life he leads out in these Jersey hills," Kreymborg continued, "express a joy in the mere existence from day to day. . .There is in addition a lyrical element, a love of rhythm, of quiet, song-like rhythm that is placid and self-sufficient. And his compositions are inventions, often with an allegorical meaning, if you will - not an arbitrary meaning necessarily, but one that the beholder may create for himself." After commenting on Man Ray's somber use of color, which he compared to the artist's relaxed manner of speech and working method, Kreymborg made a few comments that reveal he had discussed with Man Ray the formal program behind the paintings, although he confessed that, as a poet, he was not in a position to fully grasp its more complex theoretical significance. "Each of Man Ray's expressions are enclosed inside some definite plastic mode," he said. But he immediately expressed a word of caution, explaining that too strict an adherence to any specific mode of operation might result only in restricting an artist's creativity. "Looking at some of these [paintings]," the poet noted, "one is tempted to ask the old paradox: 'Is form freedom or freedom form?' The question is as old and unanswerable as the one concerning the hen and the egg."

Kreymborg's reservations were doubtlessly based on his experience with the modern poetry movement, where the traditional elements that had determined the formal structure of verse were being systematically rejected. Indeed, knowledge of Man Ray's "definite plastic mode," as he called it, led Kreymborg to question whether or not Man Ray had made an important contribution to the new art. "It would take a more keenly sensitive instinct than mine," he explained, "one more of the artist['s] eye to make such proclamation." After having declared his ignorance in this regard, he boldly concluded: "I can say this much: his canvases are the most inviting to joyous resposefulness [sic] that are being painted in America."

Exactly what paintings Kreymborg saw in Man Ray's garret is difficult to say, for his description is vague. With the exception of War (which he notes was reproduced in A Book of Divers Writings), he mentions no specific painting by title. In the course of his evaluation of Man Ray's paintings, Kreymborg identified the artist's influences as "Cézanne, the Byzantine and Egyptian, but most particularly... Picasso's and some of the Futurists." A reference to Byzantine art leads us to suspect that he probably saw Man Ray's Madonna (fig. 127), but the references to Cézanne and Picasso are too imprecise to permit a secure identification of other paintings. It is hard to imagine, however, that he would not have shown Kreymborg some of the canvases he was working on at the time, and we do have an approximate idea of what kind of paintings those were.

In the first few months of 1915, Man Ray consciously broke from what he called the "romantic expressionistic" style of his earlier work. He explained the moment of this transition in his autobiography:


I changed my style completely, reducing human figures to flat-patterned disarticulated forms. I painted some still-lifes also in flat subdued colors, carefully choosing subjects that in themselves had no aesthetic interest. All idea of composition as I had been concerned with it previously, through my earlier training, was abandoned, and replaced with an idea of cohesion, unity and a dynamic quality as in a growing plant. This I felt more than actually analyzed.[7]


Despite the intuitive approach he claimed, Man Ray's new paintings were actually tightly organized compositions, images with unified and cohesive design elements that, among other things, indicate a careful and well-thought-out analysis of internal form. As in the case of his paintings of the previous year, this change in style may have been worked out through a series of still life paintings. Apparently, the ability to freely arrange a group of inanimate objects into any desired order or position was a procedure that - in and of itself - duplicated the artificial process of arranging a picture space and thereby represented a preliminary step in the realization of an abstract composition. Moreover, in the painting of still lifes (as opposed to portraits and landscapes), the artist must have felt at greater liberty to distort the appearance or physical properties of the objects he represented, for, unlike subjects inspired directly from sources in nature, man-made objects could, he may have reasoned, have been fabricated in a variety of differing shapes and materials. Taking the liberty of arranging five of these still lifes into an order that reflects their increasing tendency toward abstraction (figs. 136-140), we may very well be following the same steps Man Ray himself took when painting these pictures.

The first painting (fig. 136) continues to exhibit an approach reminiscent of the artist's earlier "romantic expressionistic" style. A yellow candlestick and a tall brass-colored vase are positioned against a dish and placed on a chair, mimicking the arrangement of still life elements in his earlier Indian Carpet (fig. 110). Here, however, the view is more tightly focused, and various details are brushed onto the surface of the canvas with greater freedom, lending the whole composition a more graphic quality. The compression of space is accentuated by a sharp black vertical line that runs along the right side of the brass vase but continues artificially downward and over the surface of this vessel, providing a predominantly decorative effect.

The next still life in this sequence is sharply more minimal in appearance (fig. 137), even though some of the same still life elements reappear, positioned, again, against the same triangular chair back that had appeared in several earlier paintings (figs. 110, 136). But here the level of abstraction is intentionally heightened, for the tall tapering vase (this time with animal figures painted on its surface) is rendered in proper perspective, its lip and circular mouth seen from above (although a roughly spherical object is placed into it). By contrast, the octagonal plate next to it is presented frontally, seemingly propped up and held into position by an open book in the immediate foreground. Not only does this plate parallel the picture plane, but it is given a translucent quality, so that the base of a stylized candlestick that appears directly behind it is completely visible. This candlestick is, in turn, rendered without dimensions, and it seems to artificially hover in space, for the ground plane upon which it rests is nothing more than a horizontal line that defines the lower portion of a dark rectangle in the center of the chair back. The result is an image where a suggestion of depth is sharply diminished, for we are forced to comprehend the plate, candlestick, and background as enmeshed within the same planar dimension, a conjunction of foreground and background space that reflects the inherently two-dimensional qualities of the canvas surface.

In the next painting in this sequence (fig. 138), a relatively straightforward, naturalistic rendering of still life elements on the left side of a composition (although they, too, barely suggest a spatial reading) is bluntly juxtaposed with an even more flatly rendered frontal elevation of objects on the right. Two vases and a fan-like shape appear positioned on a tabletop; one of these vases floats above the other objects in the composition and is shown in vertical bisection, while the dark-colored circular jar to the left casts a pronounced shadow on the far wall, upon which hangs a painting that depicts a figure with upraised arm. If the picture ended here, there would be nothing exceptional about its design. But visually grafted to the right side of the painting - on the same canvas surface - there appears a wide vertical strip containing an ambiguous casting of still life elements. With the information provided, it is not clear whether Man Ray conceived of these objects in plan or elevation, but either way, their sharp juxtaposition with the more naturalistic details on the left is a purely abstract conception - abstract in the sense that the painting was not meant to be read as an accurate illusory representation of something else. Rather, as the artist must have reasoned by now, the painting must be understood first and foremost for what it is: a flat canvas surface, which may also contain a variety of shapes and colors, echoing (but not precisely duplicating) the design and configuration of elements found in our natural environment.

This or a similar line of reasoning must have contributed to the sharply reduced imagery and abstract design in the next still life (fig. 139), where a bowl, covered jar, and candlestick are so thoroughly fused to the frontal plane of the painting that viewers are compelled to read all forms within the image as an integral part of the canvas surface. All shading and modeling have been eliminated, and, by means of translucent, overlapping forms, even the recessional edges of the tabletop are incorporated within a reading of the painting's two-dimensional framework. The white rectangle at the far wall serves to unite the various elements of the composition; its vertical edges diametrically bisect all three of the still life components, inter-penetrating their flat-patterned shapes at the same planar dimension, fusing their separate identities into a coincident reading of the whole. It is the painting's pronounced degree of abstraction - combined with the fact that it probably represented Man Ray's first significant departure from his earlier work - that caused him to give this painting the title Arrangement of Forms No. 1.

The last still life in this sequence - which, unfortunately, has been lost and is known in only a black-and-white photograph (fig. 140) - is also called Arrangement of Forms. Within the thicket of lines and shapes that comprise its internal components, we are barely capable of distinguishing the still life elements. The result is to have genuinely approached the limits of pure abstraction. Only the curved lines in the picture can be recognized as having been derived from the outer contours of jars and vases of varying shapes and sizes. A number of these objects appear in only fragmentary form, their outer profile graphically rendered against the flat canvas surface. The dark tapering shape just to the right of the center is bisected vertically and appears to be attached to (or to emanate from) a rectangular shape to its left.

Not all elements within this composition, however, were derived from such clearly recognizable sources. In order to determine the accurate circumference of the circular shape at the very base of the picture, for example, the artist first established its approximate geometric center, a precise point that he marked with a white dot encircled in black. Not only was this mark retained in the final composition, but it was emphasized by the addition of white radial lines. This tendency - to preserve the lines of construction in his drawings and paintings - is a working method the artist may have retained from his experience as a mechanical draftsman. But no matter what its origins, this procedure represents an important early step in the artist's eventual acceptance and development of a more mechanical and, fundamentally, more abstract imagery.

In the very period when Man Ray began to systematically explore the development of this new "flat-patterned" style, he submitted two paintings - an unidentified still life and his Madonna (fig. 127) - to a group exhibition held at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, the first public showing of his work within the context of vanguard American painting.[8] Most of the artists represented in this show had already established their reputations in New York galleries, including Arthur B. Davies, Charles Demuth, James Daugherty, William Glackens, Walt Kuhn, Maurice Prendergast, Morton Schamberg, and Charles Sheeler. By and large, reviewers of the show were intrigued by the new modern paintings, as were the well over five thousand visitors to the exhibition. But it appears that only one critic made mention of the works by this little-known painter from Ridgefield: "Man Ray's small 'Madonna,'" wrote an anonymous reviewer in the Post Express, "is softly colored, but in stiffness the face and figure out-Byzantine the most Byzantine mosaic ever created."[9]

A few days after this show closed, another exhibition, which included many of the same artists, opened at the Montross Gallery in New York. [10] Although in the business of selling art since 1885, the gallery only began to show the work of progressive artists after the Armory Show. Its owner and proprietor, Newman Emerson Montross, explained that he wanted to show the new artists while their work was still available. "I consider it wiser to open the door from inside," he explained to a reporter in 1914, "rather than to have it thrust in your face from outside .... The only safe rule is to give the men who have something fresh to say a chance to say it whether it disturbs us or not."[11] Fortunately, such a frank disregard for adverse critical reaction was a position maintained by a number of the more adventurous galleries, and this courageous attitude made it possible for artists like Man Ray - who were relatively unknown but committed to the new art - to exhibit their work before the comparatively large gallery-going public of New York. Upon invitation, Man Ray sent three paintings to the Montross Exhibition: War (A.D.MCMXIV) (fig. 126), The Rug (fig. 119), and an unidentified landscape, as well as a number of drawings. "The show produced a little flurry in art circles," the artist later recalled, mainly, he said, because critics reacted unfavorably to American artists whose work openly displayed the influence of progressive European art. [12]

While the Montross show was still on display, Man Ray prepared an ink sketch for The Ridgefield Gazook (fig. 141), a single hand-printed sheet (folded to form four pages) that is dated March 31, 1915.[13] The contents of this proposed publication are so radical and bombastic in spirit, they reveal that Man Ray had not abandoned his anarchist beliefs, even though he was becoming increasingly dedicated to his activities as a painter. Reproduced on the cover is a drawing by Man Ray of two insects engaged in the act of mating, captioned "The Cosmic Urge - with ape-ologies to PIcASSo." The remaining contents are devoted primarily to parodies of his friends Adolf Wolff ("Adolf Lupo"), Adon Lacroix ("Adon La+"), Hippolyte Havel ("Hipp O'Havel"), Manuel Komroff ("Kumoff"), and Alfred Kreymborg ("A. Kreambug"). Other than a casual reference to the Czech anarchist Joseph Kucera ("Mac Kucera"), however, the only portion of this publication referring specifically to anarchist activities is a poem entitled "Three Bombs," illustrated by Man Ray and allegedly written by Wolff. The poem consists of nothing more than a series of blank lines, two exclamation marks, and a sequence of seemingly arbitrarily distributed letters, all of which are enveloped by the smoke of three sizzling explosives placed in a dish, flanked by accompanying knife and fork, located below the poem. While the literary contribution of this poem is best left unarticulated, the three bombs are undoubtedly a reference to the three young anarchists from the Ferrer Center who were killed in July of 1914 when a bomb they were preparing blew up accidentally.[14] Wolff knew the three young men and immediately after their deaths dedicated a poem to their memory, but he was best known in anarchist circles for his design of a bronze urn that was used to contain their ashes.

Since The Ridgefield Gazook was produced in the very period when Man Ray was most actively involved in the development of his "flat-patterned" style, it is difficult not to speculate that he might have considered his formalist concerns such a radical departure from conventional painting as to constitute a visual expression of his anarchist philosophy. Whatever his motives, we can be fairly certain that Man Ray must have looked forward to prospects of becoming a recognized and accomplished painter in the new modern style. As the year progressed, he would venture closer and closer to pure abstraction, without ever actually crossing the threshold. At first glance, for example, three similarly patterned charcoal drawings from 1915 (figs. 142, 143, 144) appear to contain no semblance of a recognizable subject. It was only when one of these drawings was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1954 that the artist identified the origin of these mysterious waves and undulating lines. The drawings were "based on human forms after studies in life classes (1912-13)," he wrote, "intended for a large painting, but never carried out." [15]

No matter how removed the imagery in his paintings and drawings was from the objects that inspired them, Man Ray was not willing - at least for the moment - to completely relinquish his subject, even if the subject were disguised to the point of being completely undetectable. Of course, in the years when abstract art was in the earliest stages of its development, it was not uncommon for artists to think in these terms. Initially, even the pioneer abstractionists warned their fellow painters of the dangers inherent in the total elimination of subject. "Today the artist cannot confine himself to completely abstract forms," wrote Kandinsky in 1912; "they are still too indefinite for him. To confine oneself exclusively to the indefinite means depriving oneself of possibilities, of excluding the purely human element. This weakens one's means of expression."[16] On this very point, the Cubists were even more adamant. "Let us admit," wrote Gleizes and Metzinger in 1913, "that the reminiscence of natural forms cannot be absolutely banished; not yet, at all events. An art cannot be raised to the level of a pure effusion at the first step."[17]

Although Man Ray certainly would have been familiar with these warnings, it is unlikely that they would have been among the issues that concerned him most in this period. Rather, as we shall see, his interests were increasingly directed to a search for the most appropriate means by which to visually represent all the arts: not only painting, sculpture, and architecture but also music, literature, and dance. It was probably with these thoughts in mind that he began the painting Dance (fig. 145), the portrayal of what at first appears to be three dancing figures in animation. Closer inspection reveals that the two figures in the immediate foreground - one painted white with upraised arms, the other maroon-colored with arms by its side - were actually meant to be read as multiple visions of the same dancer. This intention is confirmed by the fact that these figures share the same crest-shaped head, and their bodies are rendered as if fabricated from a translucent material, making it possible for their separate identities to be read through one another. As several critics would later note, the unusually flat shape given to the figures makes them resemble the paper cutout patterns used by seamstresses and tailors, an intuitive though insightful observation in light of the fact that Man Ray's father had earned a living as a tailor.

It was probably at some point during the summer of 1915 that Man Ray was informed that his first one-man show at the Daniel Gallery was scheduled for the fall. It may have been in anticipation of this exhibition that he prepared his largest canvas of that year, Black Widow (fig. 146), a painting that in vertical orientation approximates the dimensions of War (A.D.MCMXIV) (fig. 126). Years later, Man Ray recalled that it was the large and impressive modern paintings by European artists that he had seen at the Armory Show that prompted him to begin work on a larger scale. "It gave me," he recalled some fifty years after seeing this influential exhibition, "the courage to tackle larger canvases."[18] The inordinate size of this particular painting, however, may have been more directly inspired by his growing concern with acknowledging and reinforcing the inherent flatness of the canvas surface. For him, as for the Abstract Expressionists who would come to this same conclusion some forty years later, oversized canvases not only defied association with the conventions of the easel tradition, but their sheer physical expanse also suggested an obvious rapport with the flat planar surface of their support. Whereas fresco painters were naturally aware of these problems, not since the Renaissance had a contemporary artist become so thoroughly preoccupied with such formalist concerns.

It may have been for these very reasons that Man Ray first called this painting "Invention-Nativity," as if to imply, perhaps, that the painting represented the birth of a new approach or technique.[19] Indeed, in certain passages, the work represents the artist's first incorporation of details derived from mechanical forms. Although the dominant image in this picture consists of a large black headless figure - painted in the "flat-patterned," unarticulated style of his earlier work - a long, maroon-colored translucent form, which appears to have been traced from the outer contours of a lathe-turned mechanical object, prominently overlaps this figure in the fashion of a casually discarded template. A slight variation of this shape reappears on a smaller scale in the background, where it is superimposed on a series of abstract, rectangular elements, which, because of their varying colors and patterns, resemble a selection of cloth samples or incidental swatches of fabric, items that the artist would have been familiar with from his father's work. Additional references to the profession of tailoring abound in this picture; the dark, blue-gray form (or piece of simulated fabric) on the upper left is defined by a serrated edge, as if cut by a pair of seamstress's pinking shears, a detail that is echoed in the prominent diamond pattern located along the right edge of the picture. Moreover, the unusually wide cast given to the legs of the large black figure suggests that its shape may not have been intended to represent an actual figure at all but, rather, that its vaguely anthropomorphic shape was only meant to represent a portion of material to be used in the making of a suit or a pair of pants. This reading is reinforced by the thin white lines that serve to separate the upraised arms of this shape from the trunk of its body, for their imprecise rendering (they have been painted with a dry brush) closely resembles the soap or chalk marks applied temporarily to fabric by tailors, in order to indicate the specific points or areas of material that still must be either cut or sewn in the making of a given garment.

A small drawing that has been identified as a preliminary sketch for this painting (fig. 147) was probably in actual fact made sometime after the painting was completed. Entitled Couple with Cat, the ink-and-pencil sketch shows two opaque headless figures standing next to a black cat; in the place where the two figures overlap, Man Ray has created a void, an empty space that describes the periphery of a blank, faceless figure. This figure reappears as the central motif in a small gouache study on paper from 1915 entitled Promenade (fig. 148), the study for a painting that would not be completed until the following year (fig. 153). The subject of Promenade may have been inspired by an earlier watercolor of the same title painted in 1912 that represents a fanciful portrayal of amorphically distorted nudes strolling to and fro in a nebulous environment, in the position of sleepwalkers, dazed somnambulists in a dream state.[20] The more abstract conception of the 1915 gouache prevented such specific figurative associations. The only indication of a subject is provided by the manner in which the artist has positioned the legs of the central figure. In spite of their pronounced degree of stylization, these limbs are given the appearance of extension and retraction, as if to provide the suggestion of a relaxed forward advance - in the fashion of a walk, or promenade. But in the case of this gouache, it is obvious that the subject was of secondary consideration to the purely pictorial concerns that motivated its creation.

The central figure, for example, which appears to have been fashioned after the design of a dressmaker's mannequin, shares such a strong formal rapport with the flanking figures and surrounding environment that its precise spatial position becomes virtually impossible to identify. For example, the line that defines the right torso of the figure on the left overlaps the central figure at the waist and continues down to establish the position of its inner thigh. The final extension of this line, then, serves to simultaneously describe the lower leg position of both figures, an intentional alignment and interpenetration of form that eradicates the recessional effect created by normal perspectival overlap. Even though the figures are distinguishable from the red ground that surrounds them, they are joined to its planar dimension by virtue of this overlapping technique, which is applied consistently throughout the image and causes us to read the shapes as if we can see through them; they seem like thin filters of translucent plastic or glass, with few or no volumetric associations.

The relationship between figure and ground is one that was of special interest to Man Ray in this period. If the ultimate goal was flatness, he may have asked himself, and if one dealt with figuration of any kind, no matter how abstracted, then how could one avoid the sensation of depth that would naturally be suggested by any awareness of foreground and background space? One solution would be to literally cut it out. That is exactly what Man Ray did in the small painting he appropriately entitled Cut Out (fig. 149). Abstract, overlapping shapes - at least one of which was borrowed from the head of the central figure in Promenade - are painted in oil on the surface of a thin, rectangular board, which in turn has been trimmed of its flanking background and suspended within the confines of a shallow, open-backed frame. Thus, the figurative elements of the painting hang freely, silhouetted against whatever wall surface the painting happens to be hung from.

In 1915 Man Ray composed a poem entitled "Three Dimensions," which, considering its title, is best understood within the context of his ongoing formalist concerns. The poem appeared in Others, a magazine founded by Kreymborg and the wealthy poet and art collector Walter Arensberg, who also provided the initial financial backing for the review.[21] In his autobiography and in later interviews, Man Ray mistakenly said that the title of this magazine was meant to imply his personal detachment from its activities - that is to say, only others would be allowed to contribute.[22] The first six issues of this self-proclaimed "magazine of the new verse," as it was subtitled, were published in Grantwood, New Jersey. The last of these numbers contained contributions by Marianne Moore, Carl Sandburg, William Zorach, and others, as well as a single poem each by Adon Lacroix and Man Ray.[23] Lacroix's "Intimacy" is a work in two parts, wherein an allusion of encroaching darkness is juxtaposed with an impression of impending death. By contrast, Man Ray's "Three Dimensions" avoids such emotionally charged subject matter and, instead, presents a carefully constructed, rhythmic verse, describing a view of houses seen in the dead of night:


Several small houses
Discreetly separated by foliage
And the night -
Maintaining their several identities
By light
Which fills the inside of each -
Not as masses they stand
But as walls
Enclosing and excluding
Like shawls
About little old women -
What mystery hides within
What curiosity lurks without
One the other
Knows nothing about.


In the first stanza of this poem, Man Ray provides his readers with the visual impression of a cluster of houses viewed in complete darkness, distinguishable from one another only by the radiance of their interior light. The second stanza tells us that these houses are seen not as three-dimensional bodies - possibly an allusion to the title - but rather as a series of impenetrable walls, separating their mysterious interior spaces from that of an unknowing but curious outside world, a separation he compares to the effect of shawls worn by old women. This element of apparel, he suggests, serves to symbolically shelter these women from the perils of their immediate environment, of which, he concludes, "One the other / Knows nothing about."

At the very moment when Man Ray was in the process of formulating the theoretical basis for his paintings, he met the famous French artist Marcel Duchamp, then best known for the scandalous reception accorded his Nude Descending a Staircase when it was shown at the Armory Show in 1913. Duchamp came to America in June of 1915 and was a guest for a brief period at the home of Walter and Louise Arensberg. In the fall, Arensberg brought Duchamp out to the Ridgefield colony to meet some of the artists there. At first, Man Ray recalled, communication was difficult, for he spoke little French and Duchamp no English. Although Lacroix occasionally served as translator, the language barrier offered little resistance to their growing friendship, one that would continue for well over fifty years, throughout the remaining years of their lives. After their meeting, we can be fairly certain, Man Ray would have followed the activities of his French friend with some interest. With his anarchist leanings, it is likely that he would have been attracted to Duchamp's iconoclastic pronouncements, which appeared with some regularity in the art magazines.

Even before the two artists met, Man Ray may have seen two examples of Duchamp's work in an exhibition of modern French art that was held in March 1915 at the Carroll Galleries in New York. Both versions of his Chocolate Grinder (Arensberg Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art) were shown there and severely criticized for their mechanical execution. On this basis, one reviewer even questioned their artistic merit: "It is not easy to take seriously as 'Art' two such mechanical evocations," wrote William B. McCormick in the New York Press, and he went on to describe these paintings as "two engines for grinding chocolate impeccably drawn and colored as if for a machinery catalogue."[25] But it was the precise, mechanical quality of these works that would have appealed most to Man Ray, who was then employed as a part-time draftsman in a commercial firm.

During the late summer of 1915, Man Ray spent most of his time preparing for his forthcoming show, placing finishing touches on canvases and assembling a portfolio of reproductions that could be used for the catalogue and circulated for publicity purposes. Not being satisfied with the results of professional photographers, the artist decided to prepare these reproductions himself. "Translating color into black and white," he explained, "required not only technical skill but an understanding as well of the works to be copied. No one, I figured, was better qualified for this work than the painter himself."[26] So he acquired a camera and the necessary filters and proceeded to prepare several photo albums of his work, which he distributed to dealers and a number of interested friends. "I studied [the taking of pictures] very thoroughly," he later recalled, "and after a few months I became the most expert photographer for reproducing things!"[27]

At some point during the summer months, Man Ray's work managed to attract the writing talents of Willard Huntington Wright, brother of the Synchromist painter Stanton Macdonald-Wright. At that time, Wright was art critic of Forum, a highly respected literary journal (which, coincidentally, was then published by Mitchell Kennerly, the very collector who first purchased a painting by the artist). It was in his general review of modernist exhibitions in New York that this important and influential critic first mentioned Man Ray's paintings, for which, apparently, he had not yet developed a very high regard. He described two works by the artist that he had seen in a group exhibition at the Daniel Gallery:


Man Ray shows two works, one of which is quite large. A standing portrait, painted flatly and effectively, exhibits both the good and bad qualities of Gauguin and Manguin, and, in addition, is reminiscent of Munter. Ray's color is grayish and agreeable - not a mean attribute when one considers the senseless assault on the optic nerves by some of our chaotic modern painters. Of the two works he exposes there is little preference aesthetically, although I prefer the still-life.[28]


It was probably the anticipation of his forthcoming one-person show at the Daniel Gallery that caused Man Ray to cooperate with the critic John Weichsel, who wanted to write an article about the artist and his work. Weichsel, founder of the People's Art Guild, an organization devoted to making the new art accessible to all classes of society; was a regular contributor to East and West, a monthly magazine of Jewish art and culture. The article Weischel wrote was exceptionally long and detailed and, when published, was accompanied by ten black-and-white reproductions of works by the artist, beginning with his Ridgefield Landscape (fig. 70) and including other paintings and drawings produced over the course of Man Ray's two years in Ridgefield (the majority of which are reproduced in the present volume: figs. 78, 83, 92, 125, 127, 139, 144). At the beginning of his article, Weichsel indicates that he knew something about Man Ray's formalist concerns. "Without denying the artistry, technical and aesthetic, of previously accomplished masterpieces," he writes, "the New artist nevertheless refuses to recognize in them the limit of plastic expression."[29]

Weichsel derived much of his information about Man Ray's theories from an elaborate statement the artist prepared specifically for publication in this article (see document A), a statement that he would revise the following year and publish in the form of a small booklet entitled A Primer of the New Art of Two Dimensions (fig. 155). After presenting the entire text of this statement, Weichsel tells his readers that Man Ray omits a very important point from consideration: an explanation of why a formalist approach is so effective. "This form of plastic rendering is effective,"he explains, "because man's visual nature is constituted to receive the structure of things in just this natural manner."

Weichsel informs his readers that the illustrations accompanying his article were selected by the artist himself and chosen specifically because they "represent practically every phase of his work." Man Ray had certainly made use of the photographic skills he recently acquired. With these prints in hand, Weichsel proceeds to analyze specific paintings. He describes Ridgefield Landscape (fig. 70) - which was here given the title "Landscape Arrangement" - as exhibiting "a love of the lyrics of nature, expressed in charming color and tender modeling and generosity of incidentals." He identifies Man Ray's Madonna (fig. 127) as "another example of the incursion of democracy in art" and claims that "its very execution is of the people's primitive heritage." Perceptively, he describes the artist's "Still Life in Two Dimensions" - today called Arrangement of Forms No. 1 (fig. 139) - as "an effort to embody the logical aesthetics formulated in Man Ray's essay." But he surprisingly describes Totem (fig. 125) - in the article called "Interpretation-Life" - as being "obviously an instance of phallic symbolism," a tenuous Freudian analysis that it is hard to imagine Man Ray would have readily accepted.

When this article appeared, Man Ray wrote a letter to Weichsel enclosing a copy of it with marginal comments. Although this marked copy no longer survives, his letter makes it clear that he had mixed feelings about what Weichsel had written. "As a whole the article is stimulating," he writes, "and really helpful in sensing my place in art-movements. It satisfies one's curiosity and gives a chance for mental exercise." In this same letter, he declines an invitation from Weichsel to participate in an exhibition the critic has proposed of progressive American art to be placed on display in a number of different neighborhoods throughout New York, at settlement houses and other public spaces. "I have decided to keep out," he explains. "I have enough work and attention demanded of me under present conditions. Then again my own studio is not more obscure than the exhibition places you mentioned, and I really prefer to have my things with me."[30] The excuse Man Ray presents is rather curious, for when this letter was written, he was about to have his first show at the Daniel Gallery.

Called "Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings by Man Ray," it opened during the second week of November 1915. The catalogue, which was designed by the artist (fig. 150), listed the titles of thirty paintings, six of which were given the simple title "Study in Two Dimensions," making it clear that the artist wanted to emphasize his formalist concerns. In fact, it was precisely this point that most confounded reviewers of the exhibition, who tended to classify the two-dimensional studies with the design experiments of an art student. The paintings ranged in date from the time when Man Ray moved out to Ridgefield in 1913 up to examples of his new "flat-patterned" style.

When Man Ray showed up with these works at the Daniel Gallery, they were all still unframed, and Daniel - with limited resources - was naturally hesitant to assume the enormous expense of having so many paintings and drawings professionally prepared for display in the exhibition. The dealer, who years later best remembered the artist for his "marvelous analytical mind," must have been delighted with the ingenious solution proposed by Man Ray.[31] In keeping with his concern for retaining an awareness of an inherent flatness of painting, Man Ray devised a method whereby the canvases were recessed into a temporary wall surface constructed of cheesecloth, making it look as if the works had been painted directly on the surface of the wall.

Man Ray recalled that most reviews of this exhibition were "deprecatory or outrightly hostile."[32] Conservative critics preferred the earlier, more representational portraits and landscapes, which they cited as proof that the artist could paint with skill if he really wanted to. As an example of the opposing extreme, they repeatedly singled out his painting Dance (fig. 145) - or "Dance-Interpretation," as it was titled for this show - probably because this work was conveniently reproduced in the catalogue (fig. 150). One critic described the painting as "some tailor's patterns... having a gay time," while another not only accused the artist of imitating Picasso and Duchamp but also said the paintings "resemble the work of a drunken patternmaker."[33] An anonymous reviewer in the New York Sun can be credited with what were probably the most insightful observations. "Mr. Ray appears to have cut certain shapes of dancing figures from a paper roughly," he wrote in describing Dance. "Then he cut the figures again into careless segments and pasted the whole together in fine disregard of the original shapes."[34] Whether Man Ray constructed this particular work in the fashion described by this reviewer is uncertain, but the analysis is keenly prophetic, for it describes precisely the technique the artist was to use the very next year in the production of his most important painting of this period (fig. 159).

This same reviewer in the Sun also thought Man Ray's landscapes noteworthy for their "undeniable charm" but rightly observed that the real purpose of the exhibition was "evidently to test the larger, two-dimensional canvases with the public." In this light, there follows an analysis of Dance:


Our artist, instead of using the four dimensions of Mr. Picasso, uses but two, but art in two dimensions is even more intricate than in four .... Picasso is always concerned with form and that thing more than form that gives the fourth dimension, but these dancers of Mr. Ray are of tissue paper thinness. They have width and height only.


This reviewer then notes that this flattening effect can be of some value and proceeds to establish a connection with the art of the past:


From the mural point of view the two dimensions are theoretically more correct than the four that are used by Picasso. The great success of Puvis lay in his ability to keep his great wall spaces flat. What is fair for classic art is fair for the moderns.


Clearly the most important and informed critical response to this exhibition came from the pen of Willard Huntington Wright, who by this time had become well established as the most brilliant and articulate defender of modernism in America.[35] Wright had earned this pinnacle of recognition through years of producing articles that are now considered to be the most intelligent and provocative writings on modern art published in this period. By the end of 1915, his writings on art had become known to an even larger audience, for this year marked the appearance of his book Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning, a volume that has been rightly described as "the first important American contribution to the discussion of contemporary art."[36] Even though similar acknowledgments were expressed in contemporary reviews of this pioneering study, it has since been criticized for its personal bias toward Synchromism, the American art movement of "painting in pure color," founded in 1912 in Paris by Morgan Russell and Wright's brother, Stanton Macdonald-Wright.[37]

It was doubtlessly Wright's interest in abstract art that initially attracted him to Man Ray's work. We will recall that, on the basis of seeing only two isolated paintings, Wright described the artist's color as "agreeable." Now, after seeing the many works in his one-man show, the celebrated critic found his use of color "most pleasing." In what was ostensibly a review of current exhibitions in New York, Wright's renewed enthusiasm for Man Ray's painting caused him to single out his work more for its potential than for its inherent aesthetic value. Without stating so specifically, he implied through the title of the article - "Art, Promise, and Failure" - that Man Ray's work contained the greatest degree of hope for the future, or "promise," as he put it, in what was then a rapidly growing arena of artists who consciously sought to emulate the most recent advancements in the visual arts.[38]

After commenting favorably on Man Ray's use of color, Wright went on to state that, because the artist's influences could be so easily detected and identified, in his opinion the work lacked a certain degree of resolve. "He is an artist in process," wrote Wright. "There is nothing final about any one of his pictures. He is searching for an ultimate personal expression." Although Wright felt this search would eventually yield positive results, he took the opportunity to say that, for the moment, Man Ray was not yet adequately versed in the formalist tenets that comprise all great art: "I believe Man Ray will take this personal route to good work," he said, "even though at present he is handicapped by an ignorance of the fundamental principles of all great aesthetic expression."

This having been said, the critic then allowed himself a lengthy regression on the subject of those texts that purport to have an understanding of these principles. "What we sorely need," he said, "is a school of instruction in composition, or a book, replete with diagrams, explaining to artists the foundation on which all true art is built, and why." He then condemned every text that already existed on this subject as being "superficial, objective and injurious"; although he named no specific titles - except Clive Bell's Art, which he caustically proclaimed "halts on the hither side of the simplest profundity" - he must have had in mind books such as Henry Rankin Poore's Pictorial Composition (1903), Denman Ross's Theory of Pure Design (1907), or Arthur Wesley Dow's Composition (1899, 1913).[39] According to Wright, the authors of these books "mistake pattern for form, delimited spaces for volumes, outlines for lines, balance for composition, surface harmony for organization, and two-dimensional linear sequence for rhythm." Whether right or wrong in his claims, here the erudite critic was prematurely beating his own drum, for at the time of this writing he had already planned the publication of a book on this very subject, to be entitled "Principles of Aesthetic Form and Organisation." Even though the study never materialized, a good number of the formalist issues he considered essential to the production of all great art were addressed in his book of 1916 entitled The Creative Will, a collection of over two hundred and fifty individual "studies in the philosophy and the syntax of aesthetics."[40]

Redirecting his attention to the work of Man Ray, Wright went on to identify what he believed were the artist's immediate influences. He accurately connected some of the smaller canvases to the pre-Cubist production of Picasso, calling the paintings "competent admirations of that great leader" - adding, however, that "they do not possess the stupendous commodité de la main that the Spaniard possesses." In other paintings he detected the influence of Picabia, asserting - surprisingly - that Man Ray "has passed beyond him," even claiming that "[Man Ray's] work is more artistic." Wright probably admonished the work of Picabia for the same reasons that earlier had led him to place Kandinsky in a category with "the lesser moderns."[41] From what Wright could ascertain, Picabia must have given the impression that he composed his latest abstractions without any reference to forms in the natural world-in opposition to what Wright's brother and Morgan Russell had consistently followed in the creation of their numerous Synchromies. For Wright, a reliance upon forms in nature was an a priori consideration for all great art, no matter how abstract in appearance. Just as the earlier theorists had warned against the pitfalls of total abstraction, Wright observed that "even in the most abstract of the great painters the form is concrete," asserting further that "colour for colour's sake would result only in paltry decoration."[42] In Man Ray's paintings, however, a dependency upon forms in nature was still clearly in evidence. "He is still treating his form from an objective standpoint," Wright noted. "He deals with nature, distorted, simplified, arranged and flattened."

After some general remarks aimed at explicating what he believed were the underlying motives of Man Ray's technique, Wright directed his criticism to specific paintings he had seen in the Daniel Gallery exhibition. Curiously, he thought very little of Dance (fig. 145), which he described as simply "childish." According to Wright, the painting "harkened to the injunctions of Futurism," the Italian art movement the outspoken critic had already gone on record to condemn for its chaotic effect and for what he felt were its unjustified aims. In summation, Wright readdressed Man Ray's handling of certain formal problems, finding his use of color "meaningless, save as rich pattern." On the other hand, he apparently found the artist's treatment of form satisfactory: "His forms are," noted Wright, "as he himself admits, two-dimensional." Doubtlessly inspired by the emphasis placed on chromatic organization in Synchromism, Wright then warned Man Ray to pay closer attention to his selection and balance of color. He ended his evaluation of the artist with a somewhat reserved though optimistic opinion of Man Ray's prospects for the future: "If his great promise can be headed toward organization," concluded Wright, "we may expect significant things from him later on."

In spite of the vast quantity of publicity generated by his first major showing in New York, not a single painting or drawing sold during the course of the exhibition. A few days after the works were taken down, however, the Chicago lawyer, author, and art collector Arthur Jerome Eddy stopped into the gallery and offered two thousand dollars for six paintings.[43] Daniel was pleased with the sale, even though it represented a bit less than the five to six hundred dollars that was asked for each canvas during the time of the exhibition. Not only did he know that Eddy was an important collector, long recognized for his patronage of modern art (particularly for his daring purchases at the Armory Show), but as a businessman Daniel naturally wanted to nurture a professional relationship with such a wealthy and important prospective client. In fact, in order to secure the sale, Daniel volunteered to waive his commission and very generously turned over the entire two thousand dollars to the artist. In the end, Eddy walked out of the gallery with six paintings: The Reaper (fig. 107), Figures in a Landscape (fig. 108), The Lovers (fig. 118), Five Figures (fig. 120), and two others that have not yet been identified.[44]

The sudden and unexpected revenue made it possible for Man Ray and Adon Lacroix to move out of their little shack in the country. Neither of them wanted to face another winter in such a remote location. "Hadn't we had enough of this back-to-earth life?" he asked his wife. "No more woodchopping or melting snow for water, for me."[45] This said, they immediately packed their bags and began a search for more convenient and comfortable quarters in town. Within a comparatively short time, probably by the first of December, the couple had moved into an artist's studio on Lexington Avenue and Forty-second street, in an area that was then the center of Manhattan's art gallery district. Most of the modern galleries were located in the immediate vicinity, among the elegant shops, office buildings, and palatial private residences that then lined Fifth Avenue. Daniel was at Forty-seventh and Fifth; the Carroll Galleries at Forty-fourth; Montross at Forty-fifth; Bourgeois at Fifty-third; and 291, the farthest away, was located between Thirtieth and Thirty-first streets, just a ten- to fifteen-minute walk downtown from their new studio.

The closest gallery was de Zayas's recently opened Modern Gallery at 500 Fifth Avenue, just one block away, on the northwest corner of Forty-second Street. At first envisioned as a commercial offshoot of 291, the Modern Gallery opened in October 1915, and its inaugural exhibition lasted through mid-November, the very month when Man Ray's show was hanging at Daniel's. "The opening exhibition," de Zayas recalled, "consisted of paintings and drawing by Braque, Burty, de Zayas, Dove, Mann, Picabia, Picasso, Walkowitz; sculpture by Adolf Wolff; photographs by Alfred Stieglitz; and Negro Art."[46] Since many of the American artists were his friends, it is likely that Man Ray attended this inaugural exhibition. But the show at the Modern Gallery that would have made an even greater impression on the young painter was de Zayas's important exhibition of recent work by Picasso (and of African sculpture), held at the Modern Gallery during the last two weeks of December 1915.

It may have been the example of Picasso's highly inventive use of collage and collage-related techniques that inspired Man Ray to investigate the potential of this revolutionary new medium in his own work. As we have already discussed, Man Ray experimented with collage for the first time in a work of 1914 entitled Chinese Theatre (fig. 130), where, primarily for the purposes of adding a decorative enhancement, a small scrap of metallic paper was affixed to the torso of a figure in the composition. The artist's next effort in this medium, Interior (fig. 151), would have greater consequence for his future work, particularly in regard to his formalist concerns. In this collage, the artist has boldly affixed a thin, rectangular sheet of silvered paper (mounted at a slight angle) to the center of the composition. Several details in this collage were appropriated from the painting War (fig. 126): the large, white, heavily outlined form in the background is derived from the horse and rider that appear in the left portion of the painting, and it has been noted that the three figures on the silvered paper are suggested by other details from this same image.[47] Thus, in strictly formal terms, as Picasso did with his use of newspaper fragments, Man Ray incorporated into his composition details that assert an inherent two-dimensional quality. Rather than literally include elements from his environment, however, he freely adapted figurative details that had already undergone the flattening process in his own earlier work.

Convincing explanations of the meaning of other details in this painting have not yet been provided. The enigmatic and contradictory nature of these details caused Carl Belz - author of an article that was perhaps the first probing analysis of Man Ray's paintings from this period - to attribute the inclusion of these seemingly illogical details to a "playing [of] Dada games."[48] Belz interprets the number boldly inscribed on the left - "1000" - as an indication of a precise hour: "10 o'clock." If this number refers instead to the year 1000, then this inscription may not be so illogical and intended, as Belz suggests, to misdirect and confuse the viewer. It may refer to A.D. 1000, a date feared by Europeans in the Middle Ages, for it was predicted that in this year the world would come to an end. Man Ray may have known this historical fact and, by incorporating a reference to war in the same image, may have been suggesting that the war in Europe would be the modern cause of universal devastation. The chains, weight, and pendulum, then, may not only have provided the inspiration for the work's title - for, as Belz points out, they all belong to the "interior" mechanism of a clock - but could also have been intended to indicate that because of the inevitable escalation of the European conflict, the coming of the end of the world would just be a matter of time.

Whatever the precise meaning of these mechanical devices, their very inclusion may have been a reflection of the sudden interest among artists in acknowledging the importance and revolutionary implications of an increasingly emergent mechanical age. As we have mentioned, by the time Man Ray met Duchamp in the late summer of 1915, he may already have been familiar with selected examples of this artist's straightforward adaptation of mechanical imagery. But it was Picabia's vociferous exaltation of the machine and the example of his newly developed mechano-morphic style that provided the most outspoken and visible proclamation of this new aesthetic. "The machine has become more than a mere adjunct of life," he told a reporter. "It is really a part of human life - perhaps its very soul."[49] Although Picabia went on to explain that he was then just beginning to work out the possibilities of this new style, during the summer of 1915 he had already completed a series of symbolic portraits: mechanical caricatures of his friends in New York. It is likely that Man Ray would have seen these works when they were published as the complete July-August issue of 291, a short-lived though pioneering broadsheet published by Stieglitz and designed to bring new life into the faltering spirits of his gallery.[50]

Coincidentally, Man Ray's earliest exposure to this new machine aesthetic coincided with his move to midtown Manhattan, where he was literally surrounded by the most recent advancements of the mechanical age. "They were building the Lexington Avenue subway," he recalled, "and the racket of concrete mixers and steam drills was constant." But the incessant noise, he claimed, did not bother him. "It was music to me and even a source of inspiration," he said, "I who had been thinking of turning away from nature to man-made productions." With these new and exciting surroundings, he later explained, "it was inevitable that I change my influences and technique."[51]

An untitled ink drawing of a spiral with an overlay of abstract geometric forms that is signed and dated 1915 (fig. 152) indicates that Man Ray had at least experimented with the possibilities of this new technique before the end of the year. In discussing the themes of his work in this period, the artist provided a virtual description of the non-functional mechanical imagery in this piece: "The new subjects were of pseudo-mechanistic forms," he recalled, "more or less invented, but suggesting geometric contraptions that were neither logical nor scientific."[51] Indeed, neither logic nor science figures into the design of the seemingly unrelated, intertwining shapes that make up this drawing. A thin vertical corkscrew bisects the center of the composition and appears to be surrounded by a number of sharply delineated forms, connected to one another at singular points of coincident alignment. It is only when this design is later reworked for inclusion in a series of ten collages (fig. 162) that it becomes clear that these seemingly unrelated shapes were actually produced by a logical system of overlapping, irregularly cut transparent sheets.

During the course of the forthcoming year, Man Ray would achieve a successful combination of the two prevailing concerns that relentlessly dominated his thoughts about his work in this period: first, to develop the most appropriate means by which to express the inherent flatness of painting, and, second, to develop a style that would reflect simultaneously the industrial and technological advances of the mechanical age.



1. The title is often misread as diverse rather than divers, but we can be fairly certain that Man Ray intended the dual reading, for readers were expected to "dive" into the text, just as he and his wife - as creative artists - were in the process of diving into unexplored areas of creativity. In 1986 A Book of Divers Writings was reprinted by Luciano Anselmino, Milan (two hundred numbered examples, the first five of which contain an original drawing made for the 1914 publication.) Considering the availability of this reprint, it is remarkable how often this publication has been improperly identified.

2. Quoted in Alfred Kreymborg, "Man Ray and Adon La Croix, Economists," Morning Telegraph, March 14, 1915, p. 7. 1 am grateful to Billy Kluver and Julie Martin for having drawn this bibliographic citation to my attention. (The article is reproduced here as fig. 134).

3. SP, pp.44-50.

4. Biographical information on Charles Daniel and his gallery was derived from Elizabeth McCausland, "The Daniel Gallery and Modern American Art," Magazine of Art 44, no. 7 (November 1951), pp. 280-285, as well as from notes compiled by Virginia Zabriskie of three visits with Daniel, dated June 20, 1961, April 26, 1966, and April 23, 1970 (archives of the Zabriskie Gallery, New York; I am indebted to Virginia Zabriskie for having provided me with access to this material).

5. Man Ray listed the people who acquired all twenty copies of this publication (including one that he retained for himself) on the verso of a card in his Card File, document C, no. 72 (verso).

6. Kreymborg, "Man Ray and Adon La Croix, Economists." Kreymborg discusses the articles he wrote for this newspaper in his autobiography (Troubador: An Autobiography [New York: Liveright, 1925], pp. 214-215), but he does not identify the articles themselves, many of which contain important firsthand accounts of contributions made in the worlds of both art and literature. He published fifteen articles in all, on subjects as varied as life in Greenwich Village and the publication of Gertude Stein's Tender Buttons (a full list of these articles was published in Francis M. Naumann, "Man Ray and America: The New York and Ridgefield Years, 1907-1921" [doctoral dissertation, City University of New York, 1988], p. 117, n. 17).

7. SP, p. 35; he would later describe this phase of his work as "my Romantic-Expressionistic-Cubist period" (SP, p. 65).

8. Exhibition of Paintings by W Elmer Schofield and a Collection of Paintings Representative of the Modern Movement in American Art, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York, February 16-March 7, 1915 (Man Ray's entries were cat. nos. 64 and 65).

9. Post Express, February 17, 1915; Madonna was also reproduced, along with James Doherty's [Daugherty's] Subway Station, in the Rochester Democrat, February 18, 1915. This information was supplied in a letter from Janet Otis, archivist of the Memorial Art Gallery, to Catherine Glasgow, assistant curator at the Columbus Museum of Art, dated March 17, 1982, (Museum Archives, Department of Twentieth Century Art, Columbus Museum of Art; copies of this correspondence were kindly provided for me by E. Jane Connell, associate curator).

10. Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture, Montross Gallery, New York, March 23-April 24, 1915.

11. Quoted in William B. McCormick, "Cubists and the Other Obscurationists Have Their Inning This Month," New York Press, February I, 1914, sec. 4, p. 8. On the Montross Gallery, see Judith Zilczer, "'The World's New Art Center,' Modern Art Exhibitions in New York City, 1913-1918," Archives of American Art,, no. 3 (1974), pp. 4-5.

12. SP, p. 6. The paintings Man Ray showed were cat. nos. 45, 46, and 47; reproduced in the catalogue was the artist's Portrait of Adon Lacroix (cf. figs. 132 and 134).

13. The original ink sketch for this publication was formerly in the collection of Arnold Crane, Chicago, but it was lost or discarded upon the conclusion of an exhibition in 1990. It was from this example that the review was reprinted in 1970 by Mazzotta (Milan), as part of their series of facsimile Dada documents. Since there are no known copies of the original review in existence, it is my contention that it was probably never printed and never circulated.

14. For a detailed account of this incident, see Paul Avrich, "Lexington Avenue," ch. 6 in The Modern School Movement. Anarchism and Education in the United States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 183-216.

15. Artist's questionnaire, dated June 19, 1954 (Museum Archives, Department of Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York).

16. Wassily Kandinsky, Uber das Geistige in der Kunst, original German edition 1912, first published in English under the title The Art of Spiritual Harmony (London and Boston, 1914). The present quotation is taken from Rose-Carol Washton Long, "Kandinsky's Vision," in Long and John Bowlt, eds., The Life of Vasilii Kandinsky in Russian Art: A Study of "On the Spiritual in Art" (Newtonville: Oriental Research Partners, 1980), p. 50.

17. Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Cubisme (Paris: Eugene Figuiere, 1912); first English edition Cubism (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1913); the present quotation is taken from the English edition, p. 28.

18. SP, p.30.

19. This painting went by various titles. In Man Ray's card file of works from this period, he simply entitled it "Nativity" but later added the notations "also called 'Black Widow'" (Artist's Card File, document C, no. 87). In the price list of works included in the Forum Exhibition (see next chapter), it was entitled "Invention-Nativity."

20. This watercolor is reproduced in Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination (New York: Rizzoli, 1977), fig. 7.

21. On the founding of the magazine, see Kreymborg, Troubadour, pp. 218-223.

22. SP, p. 41, and "This Is Not for America," interview with Arturo Schwarz, Arts 51, no. 9 (May 1977) p. 117.

23. Others 1 no. 6 (1915), pp. 107-108. Although this issue is not dated, it followed the November 1915 issue and preceded the first issue of 1916, meaning that it likely appeared in December. Man Ray's poem was probably written at some point earlier in the year, possibly during the summer months.

24. Third Exhibition of Works by Contemporary French Artists, Carroll Gallery, New York, March 8-April 3, 1915. The two works by Duchamp were cat. nos. 16 and 17.

25. William B. McCormick, "Present Cubist Show Is Most Representative Yet," New York Press, March 21, 1915, sec. 5, p. 9.

26. SP, p. 56.

27. "Interview with Man Ray," in Jean-Hubert Martin, ed., Man Ray Photographs (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982), p. 35.

28. Willard Huntington Wright, "Modern American Painters and Winslow Homer," Forum 54, no. 6 (December 1915), p. 669.

29. Dr. John Weichsel, "New Art and Man Ray," East and West 1, no. 8 (November 1915). Due to the rarity of this magazine (it is only known in a microfilm copy housed in the collection of the New York Public Library), the articles written by John Weichsel for this short-lived review have been overlooked by art historians. He wrote not only on Man Ray but also on Elie Nadelman (August 1915), Jerome Myers (December 1915), Samuel Halpert (January 1916), Adolf Wolff (February 1916), and a number of artists who would be less known in years to come. I learned about the existence of this magazine from Diane Tepfer, who had known about the article on Halpert (see her Samuel Halpert: A Conservative Modernist, Federal Reserve System, Washington, D.C., April 9-May 31, 1991, p. 17, note 1). For more on Weichsel, see Gail Stavitsky, "John Weichsel and the People's Art Guild," Archives of American Art Journal 31, no. 4 (1991), pp. 12-19.

30. Man Ray to John Weichsel, November 3, 1915 (Papers of John Weichsel, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. [hereafter referred to as AAA], microfilm roll N601, frame 401).

31. Memoirs of Charles Daniel, unpublished typescript, p. 31 (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm no. 1343).

32. SP, p.59.

33. The first quotation is taken from A.v.C., "Man Ray's Paint Problems," American Art News 54, no. 6 (November 13, 1915), p. 5; the second from Francis J. Ziegler, "Widely Different Phases of Modern Art," Philadelphia Record, 1915 (more precise date unknown; clipping preserved in the papers of Willard Huntington Wright, Princeton University). See also the anonymous review of this exhibition in the New York Times, "The Paintings of Man Ray," November 21, 1915, magazine sec., p. 22, and James Britton, "Daniel's 'Modernists'," American Art News vol. 14, no. 4 (October 30, 1915), p.7.

34. "Current News of Art and the Exhibitions," New York Sun, November 14, 1915, sec. 3, p. 7.

35. For an excellent biography of Wright, see John Loughery, Alias S. S. Van Dine (New York: Scribner's, 1992).

36. Milton W. Brown, American Painting from the Armory Show to the Depression (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 90. Modern Painting was simultaneously released in New York and London by the John Lane Company.

37. Almost immediately upon publication, Wright's book was acclaimed for its intelligent appraisal of the most recent tendencies in modern painting (see the review by Andre Tridon, "America's First Aesthetician," Forum 55, no. 1 [January 1916], pp. 124-128). On Wright's emphasis of Synchromism, see Brown, American Painting, p. 90.

38. Wright's article appeared in the same issue of The Forum as Tridon's review of his book (see previous note); the section on Man Ray appeared on pp. 32-35.

39. H. R. Poore, Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgment of Pictures (New York and London: G. P. Putnam, 1903); Denman Ross, A Theory of Pure Design: Harmony, Balance, Rhythm (New York: Peter Smith, 1907); Arthur W. Dow, Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1899, 1913).

40. Wright, The Creative Will: Studies in the Philosophy and the Syntax of Aesthetics (New York and London: John Lane, 1916).

41. See Wright, "The Lesser Moderns," ch. 14 in Modern Painting, pp. 305-326; on Kandinsky, see pp. 308-315.

42. Wright, Creative Will, pp. 15, 81.

43. For more on Eddy and his collection, see Paul Krutky, "Arthur Jerome Eddy and His Collection: Prelude and Postscript to the Armory Show," Arts 61, no. 6 (February 1987), pp. 40-47.

44. In 1937 four of these paintings were sold from the estate of Arthur J. Eddy by his son (see Art Auction by Order of Jerome O. Eddy, Shull Valley, Arizona, Son of Late Arthur J. Eddy, Extraordinary Collection of One Hundred and Ten Modernistic Paintings and Antique Oriental Rugs, Williams, Barker & Severn, Auctioneers, Chicago, January 20 [1937]). The four paintings were identified in the auction checklist as follows (from an annotated copy of this catalogue in the Archives of the Art Institute of Chicago; my own comments to these annotations follow in parentheses): lot 129, "Wrestlers," identified as by "Many [sic] Ray" and "purchased by K[atherine] K[uh]" (probably The Lovers); lots 153 and 154, both called "Figures" (either this or the preceding entry was Five Figures, later given by Katherine Kuh to the Whitney Museum, while the other is Figures in a Landscape); lot 160, "Man with Scythe" (this work is doubtlessly The Reaper, which Katherine Kuh later sold to the artist).

45. SP, pp. 60-61.

46. Marius de Zayas, How, When, and Why Modern Art Came to New York, introduction and notes by Francis M. Naumann (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), p. 93.

47. Schwarz, Man Ray, p. 134, n. 1.

48. Carl Belz, "Man Ray and New York Dada," Art Journal 23, no. 3 (Spring 1984), p. 210.

49. "French Artists Spur on an American Art," New York Tribune, October 24, 1915, sec. 4, p. 2.

50. For an analysis of these mechanical portraits, see William Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life, and Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 83-87; William I. Homer, "Picabia's 'Jeune fille americaine dans l'état de nudité' and Her Friends," Art Bulletin 57, no. 1 (March 1975), pp. 110-115; Dickran Tashjian, Skyscraper Primitives: Dada and the American Avant-Garde, 1910-1925 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), pp. 50-61.

51. All quotations are from SP, pp. 65-66.

52. Ibid., p. 65.


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