Four Works by Man Ray

Curated by Peter Blank, Winter 2013

In his repeated engagements with the book as media object, the American artist Man Ray (born Emmanual Radnitzky, Philadelphia, 1890–Paris, 1976) extended the Surrealist fascination with ephemerality into the book as media and firmly established the book as an acceptable and readily available medium for modern artists. As Johanna Drucker notes in The Century of Artists’ Books, it is difficult to envision any art movement of the 20th century without also considering its relationship to the development of the artists’ book as a unique form with its own attributes. This is especially true for the “isms:” Expressionism, Futurism, Constructivism, Surrealism, etc.

The four co-authored works by Man Ray shown here are closely linked with the Surrealist era, dating from 1925 to 1937. These titles are decidedly collaborative efforts, each a partnership between Man Ray and a noted Surrealist writer: Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard, and André Breton. They embrace the European tradition of the fine press livre d’artiste, but they also propose a new model for commercially produced artists books that was fully emergent by the 1960s.

[Paris : Éditions G.L.M., 1935]
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Locked stacks (Small): Ask at circulation desk » TR653 .R29 E4 1935
Paul and Nusch Éluard and Man Ray were close friends for many years, with a long history of creative partnerships. Facile, a collaboration between Man Ray, the Éluards, and Levis Mano (a printer, typographer, and poet who worked closely with the Surrealists), is a suite of love poems from Paul to Nusch, the model for Man Ray’s photographs in Facile. The images are beautifully reproduced in photogravure, a photomechanical reproduction procedure (derived photographically, but reproduced via ink on paper) that creates rich tones and dense blacks. The photographic techniques seen include negative imagery, solarization, and double exposures. It is the embrace of Mano’s typography with Man Ray’s erotic photographs, the subtle overlays of image in and around text that echo Paul Éluard’s romantic descriptions of his wife, and the book’s flowing design that have led to Facile’s consideration as one of the great photobooks of the modernist era.
Paris : Librairie Stock, 1925.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Locked stacks (Large): Ask at circulation desk » PQ2605 .O15 A84 1925 F
It is uncertain what is fact and what is myth in the story surrounding Cocteau’s writing of the poem “L’ange heurtebise,” but it is compelling folklore from the Surrealist era. We do know that Cocteau’s protégé and lover, Raymond Radiguet, died in 1923 at the age of twenty-one. The devastated Cocteau turned to opium for relief and was soon addicted. During an elevator ride en route to Picasso’s studio in the rue La Boetie, Cocteau experienced a hallucinatory encounter with an angel named Heurtebise, a combinatory reincarnation of Radiguet and the angel of death. In a daze lasting the following seven days, Heurtebise and Cocteau battled, the angel eventually compelling Cocteau to write the poem. It is also not certain what led to the use of Man Ray’s photograph in L’ange Heurtebise: poème. Cocteau was an early admirer of Man Ray’s cameraless photographs, called “rayographs,” and Cocteau sat for portraits by Man Ray as early as November, 1922. Man Ray’s rayograph “portrait” of Heurtebise for the frontispiece of L’ange Heurtebise, reproduced in heliogravure, presents the angel as a floating presence with wing-like appendages, composed of shadows and light, somehow present in our world, yet at the same time fleeting and absent.
[Paris] G.L.M., 1937.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Locked stacks (Small): Ask at circulation desk » TR650 .R35 1937
Paris : Éditions J. Bucher, 1937.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Locked stacks (Small): Ask at circulation desk » NC139 .R38 A4 1937
These two works mark a major turning point in Man Ray’s artistic career. La photographie n’est pas l’art serves as a summing up of Man Ray’s photographic work [“Photography is not the art”] and his earlier Dadaistic tendencies. With its Duchampian puns for the photographs’ titles (“Plein-air artistique,” “Histoire naturelle,” etc.), the photographs participate in a game of absurdist referencing between image and caption. The cut-out framing window of the cover promotes the play of the piece, encouraging viewers to display whichever photograph they momentarily fancy. Les mains libres, another collaborative effort with his close friend Éluard, announced a return to painting and drawing. In 1937 Man Ray rented a studio in Antibes and devoted himself to drawing and painting, as indicated by the drawn hands on the front and rear covers of Les mains libres. Many of the drawings reproduced in Les mains libres served as points of departure for related paintings and reliefs, and 1938 initiated a prolific period of painting for Man Ray.