New York

Man Ray

Cordier And Ekstrom

What to say about Man Ray? His production was among the first to require of the critic an approach that has become increasingly frequent—one must talk less about the work as artifact than about the issues it raises; but what is often forgotten is that this is the point of the work. Or, to put it differently, the interest of the work is not at all in its formal or technical qualities, and even I, although I think Ray is often spectacularly weak in these respects, seldom find this weakness so great as to block off other ways of relating to and experiencing the work. In this regard, such a characteristic as weakness of composition is much less detrimental than the derivativeness of Ray’s conception: The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows is actually a very well-composed piece, but the intrusive mimicking of Duchamp in its forms spoils it far more than weakness of composition spoils the Imaginary Portrait of D.A.F. de Sade.

The fact remains that where the purpose of the work is to provoke an erotic reverie in the person who looks at it, paintings (which comprise the greater part of this show) are less well suited than objects—or, if you prefer, Ray was seldom able to use paint on canvas without remembering that this was what artists had done! The most successful things in the show, as a group, were certainly the few Objects of My Affection, whose title indicates very well the process by which they make their statement: one is meant to project one’s desire onto them, and their value is in their aptness at arousing it.

Jerrold Lanes