Sunday, March 9, 2008

Man Ray: Unconcerned But Not Indifferent

The organizers of the exhibition called Man Ray: Unconcerned But Not Indifferent ask a very important question at the beginning of their catalog, could there possibly be anything new to add to it already well known and frequently exhibited corpus of Man Ray? This book draws on the collection of Man Ray's work that has remained largely unseen since it was brought to the United States in the 1990s. Apparently housed in an enormous bank vault in the back of an automobile restoration shop in Long Island, New York, the collection of the Man Ray Trust is comprised of more than 4000 drawings and photographs paintings and sculptures and personal objects. This exhibition and catalog include many of the major works but also little known earlier works, significant documentation of his working method, personal belongings and other never before seen objects from this seemingly well covered artist's life.

For me this book is interesting because Man Ray is one of those artists who I thought I knew but upon reading this book I discovered I actually knew little about. For instance, somehow I had missed that he was an American born in Philadelphia; my birthplace. The Man Ray scholars out there are rolling their eyes indeed. Okay, so I mostly slept through art history but when I think of Man Ray, I think Paris and escargot, not South Philly and cheese steaks.

In terms of a bookmaking Man Ray's most famous works Facile and Photography is NOT an Art are well documented but through this catalog I was interested to discover a small book printed called 1929. Apparently at a meeting of the surrealists in Paris, it was announced that the editors of Varieties Magazine were having trouble paying their printing debts. The poet Louis Aragon suggested the production of a special issue on erotic poetry to help ease the financial stress. Within the planning it was suggested that Man Ray could provide illustrations which led to Man Ray showing Aragon a large collection of very intimate photographs that he'd made of himself having sex with Kiki De Montparnasse. The book was edited by Andre Breton and printed in an edition of 500 copies but it was seized by French customs officials and destroyed.

The date of the book mentioned above is interesting for it was published around the time that Kiki (Alice Prin) and Man Ray had ended their relationship and it was also the year that Kiki published her now famous memoirs. Of course, not knowing Man Ray’s personality but knowing that he was deeply effected by relationships when they ended (Lee Miller being one example where he created works that hint at this) I wonder if his willingness to release these photographs to a wider audience had something to do with them serving as a kind of response to Kiki’s memoirs and their break-up.

Man Ray: Unconcerned But Not Indifferent is beautifully made and published by La Fabrica Editorial. At almost 400 pages and with approximately 350 illustrations it is a substantial contribution to the understanding of this remarkable artist. The book is cleanly designed and divides the work into sections according to his four working periods in New York, Paris, Los Angeles, and his return to Paris. John P. Jacob pens an introductory overview of Man Ray’s life and work. The texts are in both Spanish and English.

La Fabrica also the publisher of the Conversations with Contemporary Photographers series that I had written about last month. They also have a series of books under the series title of BlowUp Libros Unicos, one of which is a title called Goodnight Man Ray: Conversations with the Artist by Pierre Bourgeade. This book includes several interviews between Bourgeade and Man Ray that took place in 1972. This is a handsome series of books that cover a wide range of topics from Pier Paolo Pasolini to Barry Gifford to HL Mencken. Unfortunately none of this series have English translations, all are in Spanish.

Buy online at La Fabrica