Thursday, November 24, 2016

"Man Ray: Writings on Art" edited by Jennifer Mundy

ISBN: 978-1-60606-458-0 Getty Publications

As a kid, I loved Man Ray.  Almost the same way I loved Dali.  But, I outgrew them both.   Not like Marcel Duchamp who has consistently been an art-god to me.   What I do admire Man Ray is his brilliant photographs - especially his portraits of well-known artists and writers - as well as his more 'artful' images he took.  He was also a superb filmmaker.  The paintings, are at times great, but I feel his work was never consistent.  His sculptures I consider to be much better than his paintings as well.  Which comes to this book "Man Ray: Writings on Art," a collection of his texts that were both published and unpublished, that mostly focused on the nature of art-making, or more likely with him, his regret that he wasn't more excepted in the world of the fine arts.

Man Ray was born in Brooklyn, but moved to Paris, where he found his calling and talent at the most beautiful time in the 20th century arts.  DADA and Surrealism were right outside his door, and he participated in both groups with great intensity - yet, due to the War, he had to move back to the U.S., specifically Los Angeles - which was a mixed blessing for him.   Being an international artist in Los Angeles at that time, was sort of like being abandoned in the desert.  There was great company of European artists at the time, but he felt a great distance from Paris - and as he had mentioned in his writings and in conversation - New York is behind Paris, and Los Angeles is behind New York.   Still, he worked on Vine Street and produced a great deal of art as well as photos. Which ironically, he never cared for photography as an occupation.  And seemed to have a chip-on-his-shoulder regarding Photograph as an art or not.  Painting it seems was the ideal art form - but, he never was fully accepted as a painter - in the critical manner.

This book, is beautifully edited and designed.  The magazine or book lay-out's of his photos is superb as well. The editing of the text, and the commentary by Jennifer Mundy is very knowledgable as well as interesting.  The only weak link is Man Ray's actual writings.  His work overall in that field is not that interesting.   He's no Duchamp type of thinker, and mostly he is a little bit pissed off that he's not better known in America.  Still, the book has much worth as a study on 20th Art, as well as a study on DADA/Surrealist practices and aesthetics.   I remember reading Man Ray's memoir, which was very enjoyable (I read it years ago), but when he gets serious about 'art' he loses his sense of playfulness - which in actuality, is the big part of the Man Ray aesthetic.  So, do get the book (it's a beauty) and use it as a reference, but with no fault of his own, Man Ray is not that great of a commentator on the arts.  Still, there are wonderful moments in the book.  Mostly in the end of this volume, when he wrote a diary of thoughts, that is charming.   As well as one-sentence commentary on his famous sitters for their photo portraits.   So, yeah, a real mixed bag here.

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