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Man Ray

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The Dadist Cultural Movement created works so far from conventional art as to appear absurd, in order to create a new sense of reality for the audience. The movement incorporated all aspects of artistic life. Of the artists associated with Dadism, Man Ray (1890-1976) is one of the most famous.

The works of Man Ray were representative of the protest undercurrent of Dadaism, as well as the strange juxtapositions of Surrealism. Although he is best known for the intriguing images he created with photography (in addition to his paid work as a fashion and portrait photographer), Man Ray was also a painter and the “maker of objects and films” (according to manraytrust.com).

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn, Man Ray followed the path of many American artists of the early 20th century and moved to Paris in 1921. He remained in Europe until fleeing from the approaching Nazi threat in 1940. Eleven years later, Man Ray returned to France and remained there for the rest of his life. He died on November 18, 1976.

As one may have already surmised from the inclusion of this profile on Jewish Treats, Man Ray was Jewish, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, he spent his life avoiding his Jewish identification. (His father initiated that sentiment by legally shortening the family name to avoid anti-Semitism.) And while only the artist himself knows his own motivation, one cannot help but wonder if his tendencies toward the surreal were rooted in his distancing himself from his identity. This hypothesis was noted by the curator of the Jewish Museum exhibit Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, who wrote: “The artist’s self-consciousness was an outgrowth of his time, a period that witnessed the rise of nation-state identity and xenophobia, and an unprecedented wave of immigration, class consciousness, and anti-Semitism. His life and work powerfully reflect his contradictory need to obscure and declare himself.”

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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