Mask (idimu), Lega, Democratic Republic of Congo, Late 19th-early 20th century, Photo: Don Cole.

Man Ray, Noire et blanche (negative version), 1926 ©2010 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Man Ray, Modernist Photography, and the Presentation of African Art

Figurative goldweight (abrammuo), Akan, Ghana, Late 19th-early 20th century, Photo: John Lee © The National Museum of Denmark, Ethnographic Collection.

Erwin Blumenfeld, Sculpted head from Sudan (Dogon hermaphrodite figure), 1936 Photo: Courtesy of Deborah Bell Photographs, New York, © The Children of Erwin Blumenfeld.

Walker Evans, Untitled (Lega mask, idimu, Democratic Republic of Congo), 1935, © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Man Ray, Untitled (Bamileke figure, njuindem, Bangwa Queen, Bangwa Kingdom, Cameroon), c. 1934 © 2010 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Charles Sheeler, Untitled (Fang Reliquary Figure), c. 1916-17 ©The Lane Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Man Ray, Untitled (Aqua’ba figure, Akan), 1933, ©2010 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: ©The Newark Museum/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.

James Latimer Allen, Portrait of James Lesesne Wells, c. 1930.

 

Museum of Anthropology
University of British Columbia
6393 N.W. Marine Drive
604-822-5087
Vancouver
Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens
October 30, 2010-January 23, 2011

Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens brings to light photographs of African objects by American artist Man Ray (1890-1976) produced over a period of almost 20 years. In addition to providing fresh insight into his photographic practice, the exhibition raises questions concerning the representation, reception and perception of African art as mediated by the camera lens.

Featured are more than 50 of Man Ray's photographs from the 1920s and 1930s alongside approximately 50 photographs by his international avant-garde contemporaries such as Charles Sheeler, Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz and André Kertész.

For the first time, a number of these photographs are presented alongside the original African objects they feature. The juxtaposition offers a rare opportunity to encounter first-hand how various photographic techniques of framing, lighting, camera angle and cropping evoke radically different interpretations of these objects. Books, avant-garde journals and popular magazines also on display illustrate how these photographs circulated and promoted ideas about African art and culture to an international audience.

Curated by photo historian and author Wendy Grossman and organized into four sections, the exhibition frames the objects and images within diverse contexts, including the Harlem Renaissance, Surrealism and the worlds of high fashion and popular culture.

African Art American Style The first section presents an overview of the embrace of African art in the United States in the first decades of the 20th century. Images of African objects by American photographers, ranging from the New York avant-garde to artists of the Harlem Renaissance, reveal different understandings of African art and culture. The photographs shed light on issues of identity, gender, and colonialism influenced by the country’s history of slavery, segregation, and disenfranchisement. 

African Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Examining different print contexts in which photographs of African objects were reproduced, this section demonstrates how advances in print technologies in the first decades of the 20th century and the burgeoning of mass media played a critical role in transmitting the vogue for African art. At the crossroads of art and documentation, the works in this section reveal how the camera lens served as a prism though which a large audience first experienced African art.

Surrealism and Beyond Photography’s controversial status as an art form and its ability to blur boundaries between dream and reality enhanced its appeal for Man Ray and his fellow Surrealists. Several of Man Ray’s photographs and works by artists active in Germany, England and Czechoslovakia reflect the Surrealists’ preoccupation with myth, ritual, and the unconscious. This section explores how African and other non-western objects functioned within the Surrealist world view.

Fashioning Popular Reception The intersection of vanguard taste, fashion, and interest in African art is epitomized by the works in this section: Man Ray’s now-iconic photograph Noire et blanche; his series of fashion photographs Mode au Congo featuring models in Congolese headdresses; and images of writer, shipping heiress, and collector of African objects Nancy Cunard. As the works in this section illustrate, Man Ray created images representing the intersection of African art, photography, and high fashion.

Exhibition Catalogue A fully illustrated, 200-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Written and edited by exhibition curator Wendy Grossman, Ph.D, with contributions by Ian Walker, Yaëlle Biro, Poul Mørk, Rainer Stamm, Thomáš Winter and a number of prominent African art scholars, the catalogue is published by International Arts & Artists and distributed by University of Minnesota Press.

Exhibition Organization and Tour  Scheduled exhibition tour dates are as follows: The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC (October 2009 – January 2010); The University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, NM (January – May 2010); The University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, VA (August – October 2010); Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC (October 2010 – January 2011). 

Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens is curated by Wendy Grossman, Ph.D. and organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. The exhibition is funded in part by grants from the Terra Foundation for American Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Dedalus Foundation.

Female figure (akua’ba), Akan, Ghana, Late 19th-early 20th century, Photo: John Lee © The National Museum of Denmark, Ethnographic Collection.

Head-shaped cup (mbwoong ntey), Kuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Late 19th-early 20th century, Photo: Kwaku Ofori-Ansa.

Charles Sheeler, Untitled (Fang Reliquary Figure), c. 1916-17, © The Lane Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Carl Van Vechten, Feral Benga, 1937 © Carl Van Vechten Trust.

Man Ray, Untitled (Dogon hermaphrodite figure), 1936 © 2010 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Walker Evans, Untitled (Bamileke figure, njuindem, Bangwa Queen, Bangwa Kingdom, Cameroon), 1935 ©Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henry-Music (Cover design by Man Ray), 1930 ©2010 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Clara Sipprell, Max Weber, c. 1916.

 

Joseph Sudek, Cernosske mask, 1935 © Anna Farova.