During his storied career, Man Ray, a multidisciplinary artist with a rare breadth, worked in a variety of mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking, film, poetry, and prose. While for him photography and painting were paramount, his work in early film and cinema is often overlooked.
Man Ray’s first experience in making film was in New York, in 1920, when he worked with Marcel Duchamp on an unsuccessful attempt to create a three-dimensional film. After moving to Paris, in 1921, his diverse experimentation in the medium of photography eventually led him back to the moving image.
The film Emak Bakia (1926), with its dreamlike distortions and tilted camera angles, veers toward Surrealism, which Man Ray had embraced, as the Dada movement dwindled. L’étoile de mer (1928) features his oft-depicted muse, Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin), and André de la Rivière. Made by shooting into mirrors and through rough glass, the distorted, out-of focus images are interspersed with intertitles from an otherwise lost work by poet Robert Desnos. Through his film work, which functioned as a kinetic extension of his still photography, Man Ray became a leading exponent of Cinéma Pur, or “Pure Cinema,” which rejected such “bourgeois” conceits as character, setting, and plot. After briefly deciding to abandon film entirely in 1928, he returned to make one last film, at the request of the Vicomte de Noailles, in 1929, to document the Vicomte’s art collection and château in the South of France. The longest of Man Ray’s films, Les Mystères du Château du Dé was not intended for public screening, and is thus a more personal film, paying homage to Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1887 modernist poem “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance). Les Mystères du château du dé follows a pair of travelers on a journey from Paris to the Villa Noailles in Hyères, which features a triangular Cubist garden designed by Gabriel Guevrekian.
In addition to these three key films, the exhibition also includes objects, drawings, and photography. Moving fluidly between media, Man Ray often made several iterations of a work—photographing it, assembling and disassembling, or making multiples—reproduction being crucial to his concept of the art object. For example, the motif of the soccer ball recurs in two discrete works, both titled Jeux Nocturnes (c. 1970), in which a functional ball is bound in a net and hung on the wall like a painting. Throughout his vast body of work, Man Ray alluded to relationships between the real and the fictive, the literal and the imaginative, with a deft mastery over the liminal territory between the abstract and the figurative form.
I have finally freed myself from the sticky medium of paint, and am working directly with light itself. —Man Ray
MAN RAY: The Mysteries of Château du Dé
Exhibition Dates: January 14 – February 29, 2020
Opening Reception: Tuesday, January 14, 2020 from 6pm – 8pm
657 Howard Street
San Francisco, California