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Gagosian Quarterly

Spring 2018 Issue

Man Ray’s LA

At the start of World War II, Man Ray escaped Europe for the United States, eventually settling in Los Angeles. Timothy Baum explores this period of transition in response to an exhibition of Man Ray’s vintage gelatin silver photographs from his “Hollywood” period.

Man Ray, Self-Portrait with Half Beard, 1943 (detail), vintage gelatin silver print, 7 ⅛ × 5 ⅛ inches (19.1 × 13 cm)

Man Ray, Self-Portrait with Half Beard, 1943 (detail), vintage gelatin silver print, 7 ⅛ × 5 ⅛ inches (19.1 × 13 cm)

Timothy Baum

Timothy Baum is a private art dealer and writer, specializing in Dada and Surrealism. He is also the publisher and editor of Nadada Editions, and is separately working on a catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Man Ray, in association with a Paris colleague, Andrew Strauss. He lives and works in New York.

When Man Ray left New York in the summer of 1921, he did so with the resolve of never living there again. The city had in many ways become a monster to him: a compost heap of disappointing memories, interspersed, luckily, with a few artistic successes. Primary among his defeats was the failure of his marriage, to a Belgian who had opened his eyes to the enticements of life in Europe, and especially its conduciveness to the needs and inclinations of an inveterate artist like himself. This dream of Europe—and especially of Paris, its ultimate romantic mecca of culture and sophistication—was enhanced by various alluring visitors from the Continent whom Man Ray had met during his impressionable early years as an artist, not least of them the elegant and inspiring Marcel Duchamp, but other exciting notables as well.

Man Ray’s LA

Man Ray in his car, 1948

From the moment of Man Ray’s arrival in Paris, he sensed that he was finally in an environment that could nurture him in every way. He was welcomed immediately by a coterie of admiring Dadaists who accepted him with profound respect in the warmest and most cordial manner. He had found his home at last.

From that radiant summer of 1921 all the way through to the dark one of 1940, two decades later, Man Ray thrived in Paris. Life bore him good fortune there—especially the security of being accepted in every social way, including as a member of the artistic elite. Nothing but a dire emergency could have dislodged him from the pleasure and contentment of being an adopted Parisian. Then—shockingly and unpleasantly—that dire emergency appeared. Within a few weeks in May and June of 1940, the German army entered and conquered its neighboring lands of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium, then swept into France, arriving in Paris by the end of the second month. The French government surrendered, panic ensued, and a multitude of inhabitants of Paris were forced to flee. The city was now no place for a veteran Dada artist of Jewish descent, and Man Ray, like many of his French and expatriate counterparts, had no choice but to leave in haste. The departure devastated him. Having no preconceived choice for his next destination, he decided to return to America, where he had hoped never to live again. He confusedly headed south, gained an exit permit from France in Biarritz, and eventually reached Lisbon, where he boarded a crowded ocean liner (in the company of, among others, Gala and Salvador Dalí) and made the crossing to New York, the city he had been so happy to put behind him almost twenty years before. Many who had had to flee Europe were enormously grateful to be in New York. Man Ray refused to join that throng; after spending the summer with his sister and her family in New Jersey, he drove cross-country with a traveling salesman he had met and eventually ended up in Los Angeles.

Man Ray’s LA

Man Ray, Self-Portrait in the Vine Street Studio, 1946, vintage gelatin silver print, 6 ⅝ × 8 ¼ inches (16.8 × 20.8 cm)

Los Angeles, in 1940, was a cultural oasis compared to Paris and New York. Man Ray knew almost no one there, but with good luck had been given the name of a New York girl who had moved there temporarily, was barely able to make ends meet, couldn’t afford to return home, and was glad to make the acquaintance of a gentlemanly artist from Paris, and one who, like herself, originally came from New York. These transplanted travelers gravitated to one another and very shortly bonded in a beautiful and loving way. The young lady’s name, appropriately enough, was Juliet, and blessedly, unlike her counterpart in Shakespeare’s tragic saga, her relationship with her “Romeo” was not ill-starred—indeed they remained faithfully together for the rest of Man Ray’s life. (And what more suitable setting could we prescribe for the beginning of this nonfictional story of love and devotion than our own inimitable Hollywood USA!).

Man Ray’s LA

Man Ray, Ava Gardner in Costume for Albert Lewin’s “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,” Hollywood, 1950 (detail), vintage gelatin silver print, 10 × 8 inches (25.4 × 20.3 cm)

With such a steadfast Juliet as his beloved, Man Ray was able to sustain the ups and downs of life in Los Angeles for almost a decade. He set up a studio and darkroom in their apartment on Vine Street and resumed his dual career as both painter and photographer. By the end of 1941, he had had a small retrospective exhibition in the highly esteemed Frank Perls gallery, but hardly any works sold. Over the course of the decade, other exhibitions followed (including one with Julien Levy’s gallery in New York), but to little financial gain. Luckily Man Ray had a small cushion from money he had earned during his successful tenure as a fashion photographer during his final years in Paris, which helped to sustain him and Juliet through the leaner LA years.

Continuing to work as a photographer throughout his decade of exile in California, Man Ray gradually built up a portfolio of California-related images of some renown. Many Hollywood luminaries sat before his lens, including local or visiting artists and writers as well as an array of actors and actresses and other interesting personalities (the proud Igor Stravinsky, among others). He also explored the splendor of the California habitat: the redwood trees, the beaches, the Pony Express Museum, the movie studios, and more. He did not waste his time, then, during his unexpectedly long stay in California in the 1940s—he was always able to find some form of exploration and adventure. Such was the nature of this endlessly inspired and creative man: always a seeker, and always able to immortalize his findings as well.

Man Ray’s LA

Man Ray painting Ava Gardner for the movie “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,” 1950

Artwork © Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS)/ADAGP, Paris 2018

Man Ray

Man Ray

In the early 1980s, Ira Nowinski visited a studio frozen in time.

Man Ray: Visual Poet and Wit

Man Ray: Visual Poet and Wit

At the 2018 Frieze Masters fair in London, Gagosian’s stand presented more than ninety works by Man Ray: objects and assemblages, collages, oils, prints, drawings, and photographs. Richard Calvocoressi traces the development of the artist’s wide-ranging work and looks at his legendary three-year collaboration with Lee Miller.

Exiles in Paradise

Gagosian Quarterly Talks
Exiles in Paradise

Lawrence Weschler profiles the European exiles in Los Angeles during the 1930s and ’40s, examining how cultural visionaries, from Man Ray to Arnold Schoenberg, navigated the dramatic change in setting.

Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2018

Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2018

The Spring 2018 Gagosian Quarterly with a cover by Ed Ruscha is now available for order.

Sprayed: An Interview with Peter Stevens

Sprayed: An Interview with Peter Stevens

Harnessing the gestural, unpredictable, projectile qualities of spray paint, artists have repurposed it as an alternative to the brush, to create hazy textures, drips, puddles, and graffiti-like text. Peter Stevens discusses this history of spray paint as an artistic medium with Alison McDonald.

Still from video Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt

Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt

Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.

Frieze Sculpture New York: An Interview with Brett Littman

Frieze Sculpture New York: An Interview with Brett Littman

The inaugural presentation of Frieze Sculpture New York at Rockefeller Center opened on April 25, 2019. Before the opening, Brett Littman, the director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum and the curator of this exhibition, told Wyatt Allgeier about his vision for the project and detailed the artworks included.

Jeff Wall: The World as It Appears

Jeff Wall: The World as It Appears

The artist speaks with David Rimanelli about his newest works, the physicality of photography, and the persistence of certain motifs throughout his career.

View of the south front of Kenwood House.

Kenwood House

Anna Eavis, the curatorial director of English Heritage, traces the history of Kenwood House and details the remarkable collection of paintings that reside there.

Baselitz: Devotion

Baselitz: Devotion

Georg Baselitz speaks with Sir Norman Rosenthal on the subject of his latest work. The two discuss these paintings, all depictions of self-portraits by artists from the past and present, and what it means to pay homage.

From Mortal Bodies to Immortal Crowds

From Mortal Bodies to Immortal Crowds

Two immersive installations by Taryn Simon presented at MASS MoCA in 2018–19 examined the rituals of cold-water plunges and applause. Text by Angela Brown.

The Lives of the Artists: Muse x Two

The Lives of the Artists: Muse x Two

A short story by Francine Prose.