We saved Man Ray Portraits exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery as our last treat in London. Like you save your favourite part of the cake for last so that all the goodness lingers on and sends soft pleasure signals to your brain. And what a pleasure it was!
I read in the NPG website, and was quite surprised to learn, that this was the first major museum retrospective of Man Ray’s photographic portraits; something I hadn’t realized until then. Which led to another, all the more pleasant surprise: the discovery, the rare luxury of an exhibition where one could just drop in, always find a ticket and wander about with none of the (what has now become) usual hassle of a “sold out” or “timed” event, the latter being a scheme most exhibitions tend to embrace these days. Really refreshing not to be expected to stand in a queue or adjust a whole day’s schedule to that particular time slot booked months ago, keeping fingers crossed that you’ll keep up with the schedule.
The Man Ray Portraits exhibition was focused on his career in America and Paris between 1916 and 1968, featuring over 150 vintage prints and key works from international museums and private collections. It documented his revolutionary techniques like solarization or his ”rayographs” – a technique of making photos without a camera, by manipulating objects on photosensitized paper and exposing it to light, his experiments with colour, as well as his more commercial work in magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair.
Man Ray photographed his friends, lovers, collaborators and contemporary celebrities. These were, of course, no ordinary people. Being a central figure in the Dada and Surrealist movements during his Paris years, he rubbed shoulders with Tristan Tzara, Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, Paul Eluard and André Breton. His ”inner” circle included Marcel Duchamp – his lifelong friend; Francis Picabia & Pablo Picasso – close friends and collaborators; Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Getrude Stein, to name but a few. His lovers – the bohemian Kiki de Montparnasse and the sophisticated Lee Miller who was also his assistant and went on to become an acclaimed photographer in her own right; Juliet Browner his model, muse and second wife who, after his death, organised the Man Ray Trust and donated much of his work to museums. I wish he’d photographed his first wife, Adon Lacroix (pen name of Donna Lecoeur) who was a Belgian poet, whom he met in New York in 1913, and of whom we know very little. Unfortunately they went their separate ways already in 1919, around which time Man Ray started producing his first significant photographs.
This is a small time travelling gallery, portraying some of Man Ray’s friends. And these are the sources, along with a lot more about this exceptional artist:
I could not think of anything better to end our latest London venture… except, maybe, for some deliciously decadent sticky toffee pudding!
Later, we kissed London goodbye, hopped on the Eurostar, let the charm sink in, mused upon all that’s yet to come and off we were in Brussels Midi Station in a blink…
We’ll be back soon, Londinium dear…
London, 24-29 April 2013