Profound indeterminacy characterizes most of Man Ray's art. Through motion, ambiguity, and visual punning, Man Ray created objects in a variety of media that defy the viewer to discover their meaning. No medium was better suited to advance his theories than the photogram. Unlike photographs printed from negatives, each photogram is unique, unrepeatable, and to a degree uncontrollable. The artist cannot know precisely how the selected object will be recorded, especially if he varies and moves his light source; thus the process is inherently unfixed and dynamic and produces results that are similarly defined. Like Man Ray's "Object to Be Destroyed" (1922-23), a metronome with a photograph of a woman's eye attached to its swinging arm, this untitled rayograph is constructed of wedge-shaped elements that seem to oscillate around a relatively fixed base, the central white square. The dark background is itself a liquid world of chemical experimentation, which flows throughout the picture like a primordial sea. As his friend the Surrealist poet Robert Desnos wrote in 1923, Man Ray "succeeded in creating landscapes which are foreign to our planet, revealing a chaos that is more stupefying than that foreseen by any Bible." The majority of Man Ray's photograms are on 8 x 10-inch sheets of paper, which he used for his portrait commissions. This rayograph is four times that size, and one of the most mesmerizing of the very few larger photograms. It appears on a painting easel in the photographer's studio in the 1928 photograph of Man Ray filming Desnos reading his poem "Etoile de mer" for the short film of the same name.
Inscription: Signed in pencil on print, recto BR: "Man Ray 1923"; stamped on verso, C: "ORIGINAL"; inscribed in pencil, verso C: "Ref 3915"; stamped in purple ink, verso BL: [encirlced] "DOUANET [ . . . ] CENTRALE // EXPORTATION // PARIS; inscribed in green ink, verso BC: "171"; inscribed in pencil, verso BR: "D360"; inscribed in blue pencil, verso, right edge:"12 en [or "in"] Haut // barele gris clair no."
Frank and Patti Kolodny Collection; [Pace/MacGill Gallery]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, October 17, 1989
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 25, 1993–July 4, 1993.
Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," August 7, 1993–October 2, 1993.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," June 19, 1994–September 11, 1994.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Modern Times: Photography Between the Two World Wars," June 9, 1998–October 4, 1998.
Kunsthalle Bielefeld. "Abstract Photography," December 3, 2000–February 18, 2001.
Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas. "Abstract Photography," March 24, 2001–May 3, 2001.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 40," April 19, 2005–July 10, 2005.
Tate Modern. "Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia," February 21, 2008–May 26, 2008.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Framing a Century: Master Photographers, 1840–1940," June 3, 2008–September 1, 2008.
Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 352, pl. 181.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 444.