web analytics
April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Is There Religious Significance To Man Ray’s African Obsession?

Share Button

Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens


Through January 10, 2010


The Phillips Collection


1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, D.C.



 

 

Jews, and particularly Jewish kings of the biblical period, are not supposed to be too keen on horses. An unhealthy love for things equestrian, according to the admonition in Deuteronomy 17:16, will tempt the king to return the Jewish people to Egypt.  That being said, it must be admitted upfront that it is quite a stretch to ask whether a biblical prohibition against amassing royal stables of Egyptian horses applies to Jewish artists today. There are countless representations of the Genesis and Exodus narratives in Haggadahs and other Jewish books – some of which might even have been made by Jewish artists – so there was surely no ban on representing Egypt in art. Yet, if the bible espouses what we can only describe as an anti-Egyptian perspective, which anyone who attends a Passover Seder cannot help but confront, this could trickle down to artists.

 

So when Isaiah 31:1 curses “Woe (hoy) unto those who go to Egypt for help, who depend on horses” and fail to realize “Egyptians are men not G-d, and their horses are flesh not spirit” and Ezekiel 17:15 promises the Jews who send representatives to Egypt seeking horses and servants will not prosper, what, if anything, do they have to say about the Jewish artist Man Ray?

 

“Egypt appears most notably in Man Ray’s chess sets, in which he designed the king as an Egyptian pyramid. But I never considered the biblical connection to Egypt when thinking about those pieces,” said Wendy A. Grossman, curator of the exhibit Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens at The Phillips Collection, in an email. In addition to the show at the Phillips, Man Ray, born Emmanuel Radnitzky (1890 – 1976), is also the subject of an exhibit at The Jewish Museum called “Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention” (through March 14).

 

 

 

Man Ray, Comtesse de St. Exupery Modeling an African Hat, Mode au Congo, 1937, © 2009 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADGAP, Paris, Baltimore Museum of Art.

 

 

According to Grossman, who specializes in Man Ray, the history of photography, early 20th century European and American Modernism, and the relationship between African and modern art, it would be “highly uncharacteristic” of Man Ray to have associated the Egypt of his chess board with the Egypt of Exodus. Indeed, on the website of the Museum of Modern Art, which owns a silver-plated and oxidized silver-plated brass version of Man Ray’s “Chess Set” (1920 – 26), the bible is not mentioned.

 

“Moreover, while Egypt is indeed part of the African continent, the avant-gardes’ embrace of African objects was focused on Sub-Saharan Africa,” Grossman said, “which was rarely considered in relationship to Egypt at that time.” Thus when Man Ray photographed African sculptures and masks, he embraced the objects for “the challenge they presented to Western culture as a whole and classical artistic hierarchies in particular,” according to Grossman, and “the taboo nature of such objects specifically for his Jewish peers was far from his conscious concerns.”

 

But even if Man Ray did not have biblical slavery in mind, there is actually quite an interesting Jewish narrative surrounding one particular photograph (Man Ray’s most famous, of the artist, singer and model Kiki of Montparnasse with an African mask) that appears in both the Phillips and the Jewish Museum shows, according to Grossman. In the black-and-white image, Kiki’s white face with black hair sharply contrasts with the black mask, although there are similarities between the softly modeled features of the mask and the model. Though the two faces have many differences (cultural, ethnic, racial), they share a similar olive-shape and striking beauty.

 

 


Man Ray, Black and White (Noire et Blanche), 1926, © 2009 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADGAP, Paris, Baltimore Museum of Art.

 

 

Writing in “Unmasking Man Ray’s Noire et blanche” (American Art, summer 2006) with co-author Steven Manford, Grossman notes that varied interpretations of Man Ray’s “enigmatic” photograph of the mask reflect the image’s “ambiguous and provocative character.” Instead of turning out to belong to “a phantom French collector of African art,” the mask, Grossman and Manford discover, belonged to the American George Sakier (1897 – 1988), a Paris-based art director for Vogue, which published the photograph.

 

“Although the relationship between these two individuals has been largely overlooked, they knew each other growing up in Brooklyn, where Sakier’s Russian Jewish family (then Sacken) had immigrated around the same time as Man Ray’s,” Grossman said. She says it is “anyone’s guess” whether Jewish artists at the time like Man Ray may have been more likely to have been sympathetic to art of other marginalized groups (like Africans) since they were considered outsiders themselves.

 

“But it is worth noting that a Jewish artist, Max Weber, was instrumental in bringing African art to the American avant-garde after his studies in Paris,” she said, “just as an artist of Jewish origin (viz., Man Ray) was instrumental in introducing African art to a large audience through his photographs.”

 


Man Ray, Untitled (Akan goldweight), c. 1933, © 2009 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADGAP, Paris, Private Collection.

 

 

Man Ray certainly tried to distance himself from his Jewish identity, which the Jewish Museum website calls “conflicted,” though it “was central to an artist who yearned to escape the limitations of his Russian Jewish immigrant past.” But he may have intentionally embraced props that were familiar to him since his father worked in a garment factory and ran a tailoring shop, and his mother was a seamstress: tailor’s dummies, flat irons, sewing machines, needles, pins, threads and fabric.

 

References to Egypt, biblical prohibitions against creating taboo idols and interest in marginalized art might amount to nothing more than a series of coincidences, but what is clear is that viewers seeking Jewish relevance to Man Ray’s work can find it not only at The Jewish Museum, but also at the Phillips Collection fantastic examination of the artist’s approach to African iconography.


 


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.

Share Button

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “Is There Religious Significance To Man Ray’s African Obsession?”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
BDS targets Zabar's; Carole Zabar promotes BDS proponents.
All in the Family: BDS Protests Zabars; Carole Zabar Promotes BDS
Latest Sections Stories
Schonfeld-logo1

Regardless of age, parents play an important role in their children’s lives.

Marriage-Relationship-logo

We peel away one layer after the next, our eyes tear up and it becomes harder and harder to see as we get closer to our innermost insecurities and fears.

Gorsky-041814-Torah

Some Mountain Jews believe they are descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes and were exiled to Azerbaijan and Dagestan by Sancheriv.

Baim-041814-Piggy

Yom Tov is about spending time with your family. And while for some families the big once-in-a-lifetime experience is great, for others something low key is the way to go.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Dear Dr. Yael:

My heart is breaking; my husband’s friend has gotten divorced. While this type of situation is always sad, here I do believe it could have been avoided.

The plan’s goal is to provide supportive housing to 200 individuals with disabilities by the year 2020.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the U.S. – the estimated Jewish population is 70-80,000 – Las Vegas has long been overlooked by much of the Torah world.

She was followed by the shadows of the Six Million, by the ever so subtle awareness of their vanished presence.

Pesach is so liberating (if you excuse the expression). It’s the only time I can eat anywhere in the house, guilt free! Matzah in bed!

Now all the pain, fear and struggle were over and they were home. Yuli was safe and free, a hero returned to his land and people.

While it would seem from his question that he is being chuzpadik and dismissive, I wonder if its possible, if just maybe, he is a struggling, confused neshama who actually wants to come back to the fold.

I agree with the letter writer that a shadchan should respectfully and graciously accept a negative response to a shidduch offer.

Alternative assessments are an extremely important part of understanding what students know beyond the scope of tests and quizzes.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/is-there-religious-significance-to-man-rays-african-obsession-2/2009/12/09/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: