What Memes Owe to Art History
From the Catalogue:
“I saw Picasso here on his knees before a photogram” Man Ray, 1929
Man Ray’s rayographs stand at the forefront of Modernism with their evocation of the unconscious and their radical use of camera-less photography. Though photograms were first discovered in the early days of photography, Man Ray’s rayographs, as he called his photograms, were a revolutionary departure from the nineteenth-century optical/chemical process of copying nature. In his hands the photogram became an artistic gambit that transformed common objects into mysterious happenings.
This unique rayograph, created by Man Ray when he first began working with the photogram technique, depicts a stemmed glass and several prism shaped objects. Viewers are lured into the image’s rhapsodic space in which the ordinary becomes extraordinary. It is not a mechanical copy of nature, but a new and exciting pictorial adventure.
Man Ray started making rayographs in the winter of 1921-1922. The first one was an accident. While making contact prints in his tiny bathroom, his makeshift darkroom in a hotel in Montparnasse, one unexposed sheet of photo paper inadvertently got into the developing tray. Not wanting to waste paper, he placed objects on the wet photo paper and turned on the light: “before my eyes an image began to form, not quite a simple silhouette of the objects as in a straight photograph, but distorted and refracted by the glass more or less in contact with the paper and standing out against a black background, the part directly exposed to the light.”
The Dada poet Tristan Tzara was the first person to see Man Ray’s seminal rayographs and recognized immediately their historic impact. In his introduction to Man Ray’s portfolio of twelve rayographs, Les champs délicieux (The delightful fields), 1922, Tzara wrote, “As the mirror effortlessly throws back the image, and the echo the voice, without asking us why, the beauty of matter belongs to no one, for henceforth it is a physico-chemical product.” Indeed, Man Ray’s Untitled, 1922 rayograph recasts modern art production through the chemical process of photography and catapults the tangible into a limitless realm of unknowing.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: Signed in pencil on the mount; 'Rue Campagne Premiére' (Manford M5) credit stamp on the reverse of the mount.
Emmanuelle de l'Ecotais, Man Ray: Rayographies, pl. 50 (this print)
Galerie des 4 Mouvements, Man Ray: 40 Rayographies, pl. 7 (this print)
Heiting, Man Ray: 1890-1976, p. 204 (this print)
Manford, Behind the Photo, n.p., for stamp
Private Collection, Paris
Drouot Estimations, Paris, 20 November 2007, lot 23
Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, Man Ray adopted his pseudonym in 1909 and would become one of the key figures of Dada and Surrealism. One of the few American artists associated with these movements, Ray was exposed to European avant-garde artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque at Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery and at the 1913 Armory Show. Ray’s photographic works are considered his most profound achievement, particularly his portraits, fashion photographs, and technical experiments with the medium, such as solarization and rayographs (an eponym for his photograms), which were celebrated by the Surrealists. “I do not photograph nature,” he once said. “I photograph my visions.” In 1915 he was introduced to Marcel Duchamp, who would become a lifelong friend and influence; he subsequently moved to Paris, practicing there for over 20 years.
American, 1890-1976, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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