Man Ray Portraits

In the summer of 1929 Lee Miller, a beautiful young model and photographer from New York, approached an avant garde artist who was sitting on a sunlit plaza in Paris and announced that she was to be his assistant. She consequently became his apprentice and lover for three years. It is in this beauty-hazed and romanticised context that we have the chance to view Man Ray's artistic legacy.

Cover of Photographs by Man Ray 1920 | Paris, 1934

Man Ray (born Michael Emmanuel Radnitzky) was an influential part of the Surrealist and Dadaist set of 1920's Paris, which included Marcel Duchamp, Le Corbusier, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie and Hans Richter. His conceptual works, paintings and photographs remain among the most iconic of the twentieth century. His photography is innovative and moving; the solarised and early colour images being particular favourites of mine.

That is why I was excited to hear that the National Portrait Gallery is currently hosting the first major retrospective of the artist's photographic portraits. Covering Man Ray's career in America and Paris between 1916 and 1968, the exhibition showcases over 150 prints (most of them vintage originals) and archived contributions to fashion magazines. The sultry air of twentieth century Surrealism is breathed out slowly by models and personalities who stare at us through frames – some of them beautiful art deco originals – with alluring expressions.

There is an appropriate mix of eccentricity and simple beauty in the collection. The artist had an enviable pick of beautiful women, incredible personalities and famous friends to photograph, and a room full of them is undeniably atmospheric. The stylish Peggy Guggenheim; Virginia Woolf the literary genius; the erotic Meret Oppenheim; trapeze artist Barbette and Suzy Solidor with their blurred sexualities... The list goes on and it's a seductive cast. And Man Ray's life the ideally licentious and bohemian setting.

Despite the crowded space, maze-like progression of walls and the small size of many of the vintage prints, I inevitably fell in love with everything about Man Ray, who he knew and the way he lived. A truly brilliant exposition.

Self-Portrait | New York, 1916

Woman Smoking A Cigarette | New York, 1920

Jacques Rigaut | Paris, 1922

Peggy Guggenheim In A Dress By Paul Poiret | Paris, 1924

Adam and Eve (Marcel Duchamp and Brogna Perlmutter) | Paris, 1924-5

Le Violon d'Ingres | Paris, 1924

Antonin Artaud | Paris, 1926

Helen Tamiris | Paris, 1929

Solarised Portrait Of Lee Miller | Paris, c. 1929

Jacqueline | Paris, 1930

Erotique Voilee (Meret Oppenheim) | Paris, 1933

Meret Oppenheim and Man Ray | Paris, 1933

Self-Portrait With Camera | Paris, 1930

Man Ray: Portraits is open until 27th May 2013.


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