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Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens

2010
Author:

Wendy Grossman

Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens

Analyzes modernist photography and the life of objects

Revealing a more complex engagement with African art by Man Ray and his contemporaries than has been previously known, Wendy A. Grossman provides a rich and nuanced study that makes an important addition to our understanding of critical issues in modernism that continue to influence the way we see African art today.

Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens single-handedly resuscitates the photograph as a critical and almost completely overlooked medium in promoting the popularity and understanding of l'art nègre for a western audience. The monumental studies of Robert Goldwater and William Rubin—comprehensive and engaging though they may have been—overlooked the influential role played by the photograph in this context, a regrettable lacunae this endeavor seeks to fulfill. Not only does this catalogue complete a chapter in our understanding of Man Ray's work, but its cross-cultural approach allows us to see how the medium of photography influenced the reception of African and other non-western arts in the west, not only among artists, but by the general public as well.

Francis M. Naumann, author of Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray

This groundbreaking analysis spotlights a select group of Man Ray’s photographs within the context of modernist photographic history and the “discovery” of African art by the early twentieth-century avant-garde. Featuring more than seventy photographs by Man Ray—some never before reproduced—alongside many rarely seen photographs of African art by his European and American contemporaries, Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens uncovers a virtually unknown chapter in both the inventive activities of this celebrated artist and in this overlooked facet of photographic history.

Meticulously researched and compellingly presented, Wendy A. Grossman raises thought-provoking questions about the role photographs played in shaping perceptions of African art and, in turn, how such images led to distinctive modernist viewpoints across racial and geographic boundaries. Particularly notable is the treatment of the African pieces both as integral components of the modernist history to which they contributed and, as elucidated by original scholarship by African art experts, as objects with their own independent cultural histories.

Revealing a more complex engagement with African art by Man Ray and his contemporaries than has been previously known, Grossman provides a rich and nuanced study that makes an important addition to our understanding of critical issues in modernism that continue to influence the way we see African art today.

Awards

2010 International Tribal Art Book Award

Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens

Wendy A. Grossman is an independent scholar and curator.

Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens

Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens single-handedly resuscitates the photograph as a critical and almost completely overlooked medium in promoting the popularity and understanding of l'art nègre for a western audience. The monumental studies of Robert Goldwater and William Rubin—comprehensive and engaging though they may have been—overlooked the influential role played by the photograph in this context, a regrettable lacunae this endeavor seeks to fulfill. Not only does this catalogue complete a chapter in our understanding of Man Ray's work, but its cross-cultural approach allows us to see how the medium of photography influenced the reception of African and other non-western arts in the west, not only among artists, but by the general public as well.

Francis M. Naumann, author of Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray

Grossman’s pioneering endeavor uncovers the myriad of contexts in which the photographs, objects, and photographers under discussion are implicated, and in doing so, Grossman lays an essential foundation for what will become an area of sustained engagement for those interested in the reception of African art in the Modernist period.

H-AfrArts

By juxtaposing a selection of the photographs of Man Ray with examples of African art one can see the cross-currents of intellectual thought more deeply than has previously been shown. . . . A thought-provoking work.

Luminous-Lint.com

Grossman’s analysis of the relationship between primitivism and photography is nothing less than groundbreaking. With regard to this important aspect of Man Ray’s work, Grossman’s account is the most comprehensive to date.

Umeni

Wendy A. Grossman provides a lively description of the discovery of African art by American artists, and its crucial role in the development of American modernism. Though parts of this story are common knowledge, the author pulls them together into a fresh, comprehensive survey.

Afterimage

Grossman is particularly attuned to the transformations in perception and meaning that occur as an object becomes an image. Furthermore, as a photography historian, she continually alerts us to the unique aspects of the medium that secured it a central position in the telling of modernist primitivism. . . . Her text greatly aids us in our reading of these images, drawing attention to the camera angles, lighting, scale, and disorienting effects that these techniques produced . . . and the imperceptible ways in which broad public ideas of African art were reproduced through their publication.

Elizabeth Harney, Art Bulletin

After reading Grossman’s book, one would expect that all future books on African art will include a variety of photographs from all angles, including commercial or Surrealist photographs, as well as ‘ethnographic’ and ‘museum quality,’ i.e. ‘neutral’ images. And in truth this new approach should not stop with African art . . .

Allison Moore, African Arts

This is a book to be mined for a wide range of ideas and information. . . . This extraordinary richness will ensure the volume’s longevity as a key work in the field. The research is exemplary, the analytical approaches genuinely revealing and the production superb. It makes one see a well-known narrative in art history anew.

Elizabeth Edwards, Journal of Art Historiography

This book...stands in its own right, full of detailed research, critical reflection, excellent illustrations, and a multi-authored concordance of artifacts. This book has convinced me, a museum curator of photography within an ethnographic museum, to take an interest in the accumulated photographs of artifacts that the museum has generated over 120 years . . . This book’s blend of patient research, historiographical confidence, and thought-provoking analysis, as well as visual richness and ability to engage with popular culture, should be enough to inspire future exhibitions.

Visual Resources

Given the wide range of interest which converges in the catalog, it will be of great interest to a variety of readers.

The Art History Newsletter

Grossman’s study, which charts the transformation of exotic objects from savage curios to modern icons over the course of a few decades, is a significant contribution to this literature.

Dada/Surrealism

Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens

UMP blog Q&A: Man Ray's popularity, his unique approach to African art, and his lasting influence on modernist art.

6/23/2010
Man Ray's popularity is relative to one's perspective. While it has peaked and ebbed at different time periods in the U.S.related to numerous factors in the art world, the high esteem in which the artist is held in France has never wavered. I suspect that the recent round of exhibitions and new scholarship on the artist reflect an increased interest in the use of photography as a conceptual tool and the increasing recognition of the pioneering role Man Ray played in using the medium in such ways. He was one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century and continues to inspire artists today.