New York

Man Ray

Zabriskie Gallery

The objects assembled here, some originals and some replicas, ranged in date from 1928 to 1973. Most of them are from the ’50s on, and interestingly present Man Ray not simply as a classical Modernist but as a somewhat contemporary artist. A protosemiotician of art, Ray, along with Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte, devised the critical modes of art objecthood, creating objects that avoid categories through a multileveled visual and verbal punning which splits apart realms of signification that are commonsensically understood as together, and conjoins those commonly apart. The catalogue reprints Rosalind Krauss’ fine essay from the catalogue raisonné by Philippe Sers, along with an interesting note by John Tancock on replicas and editions.

That many of these works exist today only as replicas or photographic images is consonant with Krauss’ interesting statement that Man Ray was an early explorer of the order of simulacra. This is one reason why his work is so particularly interesting right now. Another is the incredible poetry of objects such as Main Ray, 1971, a hand reaching up from a desk-top pedestal and holding a ball (the title suggesting Man Ray, hand ray, and main ray, a term that Krauss discusses), or the violin fragment Emak Bakia, 1970. Uniqueness of conception interpenetrates the stream of simulacra, giving the oeuvre both an uncanny presentness to our moment and a remarkable combination of complexity and freedom.

Thomas McEvilley