Man Ray: The Parisian Years



Self-Portrait with Camera, 1930, Man Ray (American, 1890-1976), solarized silver print. The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund and Judith and Jack Stern Gift, 2004-16. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2021

The next exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Man Ray: The Parisian Years, will be on view in Richmond from October 30, 2021 to February 21, 2022. Organized by Dr Michael Taylor, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education at VMFA, the exhibition features over 100 fascinating photographic portraits made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940, with cultural figures such as Barbette, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Hemingway, Miriam Hopkins, James Joyce, Henri Matisse, Méret Oppenheim, Alice Prin (Kiki de Montparnasse) , Elsa Schiaparelli, Erik Satie, Wallis Simpson and Gertrude Stein.

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Emmanuel “Manny” Radnitzky grew up in New York and adopted the pseudonym Man Ray around 1912. A timely sale of paintings to Ferdinand Howald, an art collector from Columbus, Ohio, provided Man Ray funds for a trip to Paris, and he arrived in the French capital on July 22, 1921. Although the artist worked in a variety of media over the next two decades, including assemblage, the film , sculpture and painting, photography would be his main means of artistic expression. expression in Paris.

Shortly after moving to France, Man Ray embarked on a sustained campaign to document the international avant-garde in a series of remarkable portraits that established his reputation as one of the leading photographers of his time. Man Ray’s portraits often reflect a dialogue or negotiation between the artist’s vision and the self-shaping of his subjects. Whether they are being photographed to promote their work, assert their self-image, project their desires, fulfill their dreams or create a new identity for themselves, the Man Ray models were not inanimate objects, like blocks of marble. shaping and forcing, but instead were very creative cultural and opinion leaders who actively participated in the creative act. By telling the stories of his respective models and the innovative techniques he used to create their portraits, Man Ray: The Parisian Years empowers the subjects depicted in these photographs and gives them an agency and voice that is not typically realized in monographic narratives by modern artists.

Man Ray, “Berenice Abbott”, 1921. (negative, printed later) gelatin silver print. “Elsie Houston”, 1933, gelatin silver print. VIRGINIA MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, ARTHUR AND MARGARET GLASGOW DONATION

“Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the artist’s arrival in the French capital and, coincidentally, the near-centenary of the Spanish flu pandemic, Man Ray: The Parisian Years will prove to be a visually provocative and particularly relevant exhibition, ”said Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO of VMFA. “This is the opportunity to better understand the lives of his subjects and to see Man Ray in a different light.”

“Man Ray has used photography to challenge artistic traditions and break down boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” Taylor said. “His portraits went beyond recording the mere outward appearance of the person depicted and instead aimed to capture the essence of his models as creative individuals, as well as the collective nature and character of the Roaring Twenties of Paris between the two world wars.

Man Ray, “Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture”, 1936, gelatin silver print. “Lee Miller”, 1929, gelatin silver print. VIRGINIA MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, ARTHUR AND MARGARET GLASGOW DONATION

Man Ray’s radical portraits also capture an important component of the avant-garde of this era, namely the modern woman. Adventurous, ambitious, assertive, daring, enterprising and self-confident modern women like American photographers Berenice Abbott and Lee Miller, French artist Suzanne Duchamp and American sculptor Janet Scudder have fully enjoyed their unprecedented freedom and freedom. access to educational and professional opportunities to participate as equals with their male counterparts in the Parisian avant-garde. Although these women came from different classes and economic backgrounds, they shared a collective goal in the 1920s and 1930s to be creatively, financially and intellectually independent.

“Rejecting traditional gender roles and expectations, modern women wanted to erase gender differences,” Taylor said. “They often adopted the symbolic attributes and autonomy of their male counterparts, including wearing men’s clothes, driving fast cars, smoking cigarettes, and ‘bobbed’ hairstyles.”

The exhibit also tells the important stories of black subjects such as Henry Crowder, Adrienne Fidelin, and Ruby Richards, whose contributions have often been unfairly relegated to the fringes of modernism due to the legacy of colonialism and racism. The artist portrait series of dancer and singer Ruby Richards, born in St. Kitts in the British West Indies and raised in Harlem, New York, highlights an important performer whose work with Man Ray has never been recognized in previous accounts of his work. Richards moved to Paris in 1938 to replace legendary African-American artist Josephine Baker as the star attraction of the Folies Bergère, and the famous music-hall cabaret asked Man Ray to help them present it to the French public at through his portrait photographs.

Many of the subjects depicted in Man Ray’s photographs were born in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, El Salvador, Peru and Spain, including famous modern artists like Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, as well as the dancer of flamenco Prou ​​del Pilar and the pianist Ricardo Viñes. As a state art museum with free general admission and open 365 days a year, the VMFA is committed to representing the cultural and linguistic diversity of our community. According to recent data from the US Census Bureau, more than 7 percent of Virginia’s 8.5 million residents speak Spanish at home. These data guided the museum’s decision to incorporate bilingual labels throughout the Man Ray: The Parisian Years exhibition, as well as the audio tour and gallery guide. Recognizing that English is not the first language of everyone who visits the exhibition, VMFA offers content in both Spanish and English to create a more accessible, inclusive and welcoming experience for all of our visitors.

Drawing on extensive archival research, this exhibition and accompanying catalog offer a more comprehensive account of Man Ray’s years in Paris by focusing not only on his accomplishments as a photographer and his superb gifts as a portrait painter, but also on the friendships and the exchange of ideas which took place between the artist and his subjects in Paris between the two world wars.

For more information on Man Ray: The Parisian Years and programs related to the exhibition, visit


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