Women through the lens of singular surrealist Man Ray

Women through the lens of singular surrealist Man Ray

“I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence,” said Man Ray (1890-1976), a visual artist primarily identified more today with his pioneering photography than his work on canvas. “I do not photograph nature. I photograph my visions.”

The Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation and its Museum of Contemporary Art on the island of Andros pay tribute to the multifaceted artist this summer with an exhibition showcasing a string of emblematic images of 20th-century art. Timeless and easily recognizable, the works are going on display at the museum’s cool premises under the blinding Cycladic sun capable of giving everything a black-and-white dimension, in this case a vintage photographic quality.

Since its establishment in 1979, the Andros museum has presented audiences with a series of masterpieces – artworks either belonging to the foundation’s celebrated private collection or on loan from other foreign institutions and private collections.

This year’s temporary exhibition, which opened to the public on June 28, is titled “Man Ray: The Visages of the Woman” and takes a look at the women who took leading roles in front of his lens, who seduced the Surrealists and became the subjects of desire, inspiration, literature and dreams. The American artist’s works demonstrate that back then women entered society with bravado. Nevertheless, the Surrealists maintained an ambiguous position vis-a-vis women: While on the one hand the artistic movement’s members displayed the era’s libertine morals, at the same time they seemed somewhat uncomfortable as far as women’s emancipation was concerned.

At the Andros museum, visitors can explore Man Ray’s impressive over-50-year career through a collection of 150 works ranging from photographs to paintings, engravings, sketches, sculptures and ready-mades. They will recognize a number of legendary figures of the time from the worlds of art, theater, cinema and Parisian society, among them author Gertrude Stein, bohemian art collector Peggy Guggenheim, artists’ model Kiki de Montparnasse, designer Coco Chanel and actresses Ava Gardner and Catherine Deneuve. While the exhibition focuses mainly on photography, it essentially presents the portrait of an ingenuous artist who ventured into engravings, sculpture and the silver screen.

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia in 1890, Man Ray grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He studied art and came to realize that his creative gifts went beyond painting when he photographed his first collection of paintings for a catalog.

In 1921 Man Ray moved to Paris, entering the world of Dadaism along with artists such as Marcel Duchamp. Man Ray’s knowledge of French was limited, but he managed to develop ties to leading personalities such as Andre Breton, and incorporate, albeit loosely, the Surrealist movement. In 1925, he took part in the first Surrealist exhibition in Paris, alongside Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Jean Arp. While he returned to his native US in later life, he died in Paris in 1971.

The exhibition on Andros runs to September 27.

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