About the Exhibition

Man Ray: Human Equations
October 20, 2015 – January 23, 2016
Curators: Adina Kamien-Kazhdan, Wendy A. Grossman, Andrew Strauss, and Edouard Sebline
Assistant curator: Neta Peretz
Exhibition design: Rona Cernica-Zianga
The exhibition was co-organized by The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Website Design and Development: The New Media Department, The Israel Museum; Web design: Haya Sheffer; Development: Avi Rosenberg; Head of the Department: Susan Hazan
Photography: Elie Posner

Man Ray: Human Equations will for the first time display the original plaster, wood, papier-mâché, and string models from the Institut Henri Poincaré (IHP) in Paris side- by-side with Man Ray's inventive photographs of these unusual forms and the series of Shakespearean Equation paintings they inspired in Hollywood in the late 1940s. No publication or exhibition has ever brought all three components together for an in-depth study. In fact, Man Ray never witnessed the triangle of mathematical object, photograph, and painting displayed as an ensemble.

These works will be placed in context with other paintings, photographs, and objects illustrating the artist's proclivity to create art across media that objectifies the body and humanizes the object, transforming everyday objects into novel forms of creative expression. Featuring over 140 works (photographs, paintings, works on paper, assemblages, films, and original mathematical models), Man Ray: Human Equations will shed light on the development and appreciation of new art forms at the heart of the art/science matrix, including the so-called "Crisis of the Object" and the growing acceptance of photographs as works of art in their own right.

Man Ray's true spirit and mastery of multiple media is revealed in this journey that traversed continents, leading him from three-dimensional objects to two-dimensional photography and ultimately to painting. The interdisciplinary nature of this project promises to appeal to a broad and diverse audience, including historians of art and of Shakespeare, mathematicians, photography aficionados, and the general public.

Historical Outline
In 1934, Man Ray visited the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris to view its collection of three dimensional mathematical models, made in the second half of the 19th century to illustrate geometrical properties for the investigation and teaching of algebraic equations. He was inspired to photograph these models and accepted a commission from Christian Zervos to make a series of photographs in preparation for the 1936 issue of Cahiers d'Art devoted to the "Crisis of the Object." In so doing, he inevitably transformed their appearance through innovative lighting and composition, highlighting forms that would be intriguing, dramatic, suggestive, and disturbing to the observer. In these photographs, the artist exploited our propensity to seek out the human forms we most readily recognize, emphasizing human and anatomical associations.

Man Ray's photographs captivated his Surrealist colleagues and art historians and contributed to the debate regarding the importance of the Object that was becoming increasingly integral to recent developments in Surrealism. Twelve photographs were illustrated in Cahiers d'Art in 1936 and original photographs were shown in major Surrealist exhibitions that took place that year: the International Surrealist Exhibition in London, and Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1937 Man Ray published La Photographie n'est pas l'Art, L'Art n'est pas de la Photographie, a manifesto that would signal his abandonment of photography as his major artistic and commercial endeavor. This new direction reflected his renewed interest in painting while in Paris and his later engagement with object-making in Hollywood.

With the outbreak of World War II, Man Ray fled France and returned to his homeland, eventually settling in Hollywood in late 1940. Having been forced to leave the majority of his work in France, he set about repainting some of his most emblematic Surrealist paintings of the late 1930s. Even without having his photographs of the mathematical models in his possession, the influence of geometry and mathematics resurfaced as a prominent theme in Man Ray's work. During a brief trip to France in 1947, Man Ray retrieved much of his pre-war artistic output and shipped many works back to the United States, including his photographs of the mathematical models.

The anthropomorphizing approach he took in these images was further developed in an ambitious series of new paintings inspired by the photographs, signaling a return to figurative "non- abstraction" painting. Ultimately dissatisfied by the typically Surrealist titles André Breton suggested in 1936 for the corresponding photographs, Man Ray instead assigned the title of a celebrated Shakespeare play to each canvas and named this series Shakespearean Equations. Man Ray considered this series his "final realization of the mathematical equations." Indeed, these canvases arguably comprise the final important series of paintings by the artist clearly reflecting his affinities with Surrealism. The entire series of twenty canvases he painted in his Vine Street studio in Hollywood in 1948 became the centerpiece of his one-man exhibition at Bill Copley's Los Angeles gallery later that year.

The exhibition is organized by The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and The Phillips Collection, with a curatorial team led by Man Ray scholars Adina Kamien-Kazhdan, Curator of Modern Art at The Israel Museum, Wendy Grossman, Curatorial Associate at The Phillips Collection, in association with Andrew Strauss, Man Ray scholar and author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Man Ray's paintings, and in consultation with Edouard Sebline, an independent researcher focusing on Dada and Surrealism.

The Israel Museum, JerusalemTHE PHILLIPS COLLECTION

Metamorphosis of the Object

I need more than one factor, at least two. Two factors that are not related in any way. The creative act for me rests in the coupling of these two different factors in order to produce something new, which might be called a plastic poem.
Man Ray

Emmanuel Radnitzky (1890–1976) was born into a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Philadelphia, raised in Brooklyn, and reborn in 1912 as the young artist Man Ray. Throughout his career, Man Ray created witty, self-referential works that helped form the modern cosmopolitan image and the mysterious artistic persona he diligently strove to project. In 1921, Man Ray left New York for France, where he remained for nineteen years. In 1940, as an American citizen, he was granted passage out of France mere days before German troops occupied Paris. He sailed for New Jersey in August, leaving behind almost twenty years of work, and reached Hollywood by October. Ten years later, in 1951, Man Ray and his wife Juliet returned to France, where they remained until the end of their lives.

Charting a path from object to image, from photography to painting, from Surrealist Paris to Golden Age Hollywood, and from mathematics to Shakespeare, Man Ray – Human Equations reveals the inventive manner in which Man Ray moved across disciplines, challenging conventional boundaries among photography, painting, object making, and film. For Man Ray, there was no hierarchy amid the original physical object, the photographic or painted rendition, or the replica; every permutation maintained ostensibly interchangeable value, even as its meaning shifted within its new context.

The metamorphosis from object to image characterized Man Ray's artistic practice throughout his career. Many of his most lasting innovations reside in the use of three-dimensional objects to create works in two dimensions, most prominently his Aerographs (airbrush paintings) and pioneering photographic experiments (such as Rayographs [photograms] and solarization) that represented a radical new approach to the medium and which generated new appreciation for photography as an avantgarde art form.


Mathematical Objects: Man Ray and Poincaré

Shapes born of the mania of mathematicians without any ulterior motive other than the putting into concrete form of an abstract vision
Man Ray

Geometrical forms of all kinds provided inspiration for Man Ray and permeated his work in all media. He inventively employed cubes, cones, spheres, and pyramidal structures in his first chess set in 1920, and artistically appropriated a discarded lampshade to create a spiral hanging sculpture.

On the recommendation of his friend and fellow Surrealist Max Ernst, Man Ray visited the Institut Henri Poincaré, a school of higher mathematics in Paris, in 1934. There he discovered an extraordinary collection of mathematical models in plaster, wire, wood, and papier-mâché, important tools used by students of mathematics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in order to visualize geometrical properties in three dimensions, as well as to investigate and teach algebraic equations. The majority of models were acquired from the Leipzig firm of Martin Schilling, which designed, manufactured, and supplied an extensive catalogue of models to universities and other institutions around the world.

Inspired to capture these objects in photographs that transformed their appearance through innovative lighting and composition, Man Ray highlighted forms that would be both intriguing and disturbing to the observer. He emphasized anatomical associations, exploiting the viewer's propensity to seek out readily recognizable human forms. Originally, Man Ray photographed the models mostly in pairs: he associated them according to their formal qualities and playfully positioned one above the other. However, the published photographs were tightly cropped and highly contrasted, thus accentuating the strangeness of the forms, and with one exception, showed only a single model. Every step in this creative photographic process from object to image served to achieve the Surrealist goal of dépaysement, or estrangement, the removal of the real and tangible from its usual spatial environment

Mathematical Objects: Man Ray and Poincaré

A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare

I've been working all year and produced a whole new series of paintings based on mathematical equations from an erotic standpoint – very discreet!
Man Ray, 1948

Forced to flee Paris at the outbreak of World War II, Man Ray returned to the United States, eventually settling in late 1940 in Hollywood, where he lived for a decade. Fearful that the work he left behind in France had been destroyed, he set about recreating his most important paintings and making new works that frequently incorporated geometric and scientific themes. During his time in Hollywood, he produced more paintings, objects, and Rayographs than he had in the previous thirty years of his life. Among these new works was a series of paintings he initially referred to as Human Equations, revealing his intention to humanize the inanimate mathematical forms.

This section of the exhibition explores the artist's intriguing photographs of mathematical models in the 1930s and his transformation of these images a decade later into a series of imaginative paintings he titled Shakespearean Equations. Man Ray transformed the mathematical models into characters in a series of theatrical tableaux, naming each painting after a specific play by Shakespeare. The Shakespearean Equations paintings were the centerpiece of Man Ray's 1948 exhibition at the Copley Gallery in Beverly Hills, California. He transformed the show's opening night into a Parisian-style soirée, attracting Hollywood personalities, as well as friends, artists, composers, writers, and filmmakers. A core group of the paintings from this series is united here for the first time, with both the photographs and the mathematical models that served as their inspiration.

A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare

Humanizing the Object / Objectifying the Body

Forms worked out by mathematicians . . . to prove or visualize their algebraic equations . . . some of them had a suggestiveness that is conveyed by any portrayal of human anatomy.
Man Ray

The inspiration that Man Ray found in the mathematical models reflects his proclivity throughout his career to humanize inanimate objects and, conversely, to objectify the human body. In disorienting exchanges between object and human forms, he transforms the fragmented body into a vessel of mystery and eroticism. These implications relate to Man Ray's known fascination with the Marquis de Sade, the subject of passionate discussion in Surrealist circles.

In Man Ray's endeavors to create confusion between the animate and inanimate, he commonly employed fragments of plaster casts of classical sculptures, such as numerous compositions of a plaster cast of the Venus de Milo. These conventional symbols of ideal beauty became mechanisms of displacement and transformation in witty and often eroticized compositions. Man Ray employed his well-practiced techniques – highly orchestrated compositions and lighting, and a frequent rotating and cropping of the image – in an effort to shift the observer's attention from the body of the model as an individual to the depersonalized body or commoditized body part as object. Man Ray presented the viewer with challenging compositions, displaying the body partially concealed and disguised as an object, or anatomy concealed and replaced by a replica object. The reflected or mirror image recurs throughout Man Ray's work, as both a motif and a technique. In Man Ray's eyes, mirrors can show us reality but also act as a mechanism of displacement and transformation.

The artist's treatment of his lifelong fascination with the automaton oscillates between the symbolism of the dehumanization of man, and the possibility that geometry could serve as the basis of the human form. Geometric shapes, in the form of wooden solids of the type used by art students, recur in Man Ray's work of the 1920s and 1930s, frequently employed in photographs in combination with either human sitters or even surrogates of the human form, such as mannequins. In numerous works throughout his artistic career, Man Ray employed mannequins with such skill that their demeanor belies their inanimate nature: they seem to come alive.

Humanizing the Object / Objectifying the Body