Man Ray and Dada Prints

Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky) was born in the USA in 1890. The artist is primarily known as one of the key figures in the Dada movement but his work also straddles surrealism. Here, we explore the significance of Dadaism and Man Ray’s artistic achievements.

What is Dadaism?

In Zurich, Switzerland, Dadaism began in the Cabaret Voltaire, opened by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings. This was a meeting space for artists and poets who became more abstract and ironic in their artwork. The movement is both literary and artistic and emerged simultaneously in Europe and America. `

Dadaism emerged out of World War 1, developed amidst the darkness and tragedies that occurred. Being a negative reaction to war, Dadaism is rooted in ideas of the non-sensical and absurd. The abstract style echos the disillusionment of the time. With this, many artworks were left up to chance, where the artistic could not always predict the final outcome of a piece.

Pioneering Figures of Dadaism

Two pioneers of the movement who are interwoven into Man Ray’s journey are the French painters Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Francis Picabia (1879-1953).

Man Ray met the two French painters in New York City and the three men influenced each other’s artistic beliefs. While in the United States, Duchamp created the concept of ready-mades, which became notoriously iconised when he submitted a urinal into an art fair in NYC.

Ready-mades were iconized by the piece on the left: “Fountain” (1917) Duchamp.

Duchamp and Picabia’s notion of “anti-art” revolutionized the notion of what constituted an artwork. Dadaists were both “anti-art” and “anti-society”, such that even the artists themselves would chant:

“Dada is anti-dada”.

Man Ray and Rayographs

Man Ray moved to Paris and spent the majority of his artistic career here. While working as a photographer, Ray began to experiment with objects using various photographic techniques in his darkroom.

File:Man Ray, 1922, Untitled Rayograph.jpg
Untitled Rayograph (1922) Man Ray.

He discovered that he could use photographic paper and objects to create photographs with light, in the absence of a camera. Although he did not invent this technique himself, Ray employed this technique of refracting and distorting images to create photographs of everyday objects. It was not always clear how the final picture would look. Ray’s photographs of ordinary objects parallel as the photographic version of ready-mades. 

Ray named this new way of producing photographs as “rayographs”. Subsequently, he found that by working with light, he “freed” himself from the restrictions of painting.

The rayographs led to more experiments in photography which dodged conventional rules. Throughout the 1920’s and ’30s, ray continued to push boundaries. He went on to create icon pictures which opened doors for fashion and advertising

Man Ray works at Singulart

The two silk prints acquired for the Singulart partnership sale with Perve Galeria are not conventional of Ray’s work at first glance. However, with closer inspection, there are features which would carry from his photographic techniques. In this print with the face and hands, Ray works with negative space – transforming the face into a hollow mask.

We can see the screenprint above as a photographic version of ready-mades. The shapes are interpreted by some as a magnet floating in space, with a tangle of words falling from it. The words in English read: “electro magic electo image”. Other’s see the red figure as a hollow hot hair balloon, flying steadily in the sky – with the blue wash of ink creating a cloud-like backdrop.

Despite the fact Man Ray became famous for his photographs and for experimenting with a range of mediums, he considered himself primarily as a painter. In effect, the Dada movement thrived between 1916 and 1922. After this peak, Dadaism came to an end with surrealism. Man Ray kept the Dada movement alive and through this, it will be felt for many generations to come.

Singulart is delighted to present two Man Ray artworks in our partnership sale!