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Man Ray, Julius Caesar (1948). The Rosalind & Melvin Jacobs Collection, New York. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2014

Washington, D.C.—On February 7, 2015, The Phillips Collection introduces Man Ray—Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare, an exhibition exploring the intersection of art and science that defined a significant component of modern art on both sides of the Atlantic at the beginning of the 20th century. Highlighting the multimedia work of the legendary Surrealist artist, Man Ray—Human Equations is on view through May 10, 2015.


Man Ray, MATHEMATICAL OBJECT, Real Part of the Function w=e  (c. 1900). Brill-Schilling Collection. Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris. Photo: Elie Posner

Working in Hollywood in the late 1940s, Man Ray (American, 1890–1976) created his Shakespearean Equations, a series of paintings that he considered to be the apogee of his creative vision. Drawing upon photographs of 19th-century mathematical models he made in the 1930s, the series was a culmination of 15 years of multimedia exploration. Featuring more than 125 works, Man Ray—Human Equations displays side-by-side for the first time the original plaster, wood, papier-mâché, and string models from the Institut Henri Poincaré (IHP) in Paris, Man Ray’s inventive photographs of these unusual forms, and the series of Shakespearean Equations paintings they inspired.


Man Ray, Merry Wives of Windsor (1948). Private Collection, Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

“Although nearly every significant Man Ray exhibition since 1948 has included at least one of the Shakespearean Equations, no publication or exhibition has ever brought all three components together for an in-depth study,” says exhibition curator Wendy Grossman. “In fact, Man Ray never witnessed the triangle of mathematical object, photograph, and painting displayed as an ensemble. Placed in context with his other paintings, photographs, and objects, these works illustrate the artist’s proclivity to create art across media that objectifies the body and humanizes the object, transforming everyday materials into novel forms of creative expression.”


Man Ray, MATHEMATICAL OBJECT. Imaginary and Real Part of the Derivative of the Weierstrass ℘–Function (c. 1900). Brill-Schilling Collection. Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris. Photo: Elie Posner

The exhibition’s diverse works—including 70 photographs, 25 paintings, eight assemblages or modified “readymades,” and 25 original mathematical models—juxtapose Man Ray’s Surrealistinspired photographs of mathematical models and the associated Shakespearean Equations paintings within the larger context of the role of the object in the artist’s work. This is evidenced by other canvases, photographs, and objects—both celebrated and little-known—linking his wider artistic practice with the Shakespearean Equations project and casting these accompanying works in a new light.


Man Ray, All’s Well That Ends Well(1948). Courtesy of Marion Meyer, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Man Ray—Human Equations sheds light on the development and appreciation of new art forms at the heart of the art/science matrix and the growing acceptance of photographs
as works of art in their own right. The exhibition investigates the journey crossing two decades and two continents that brought the artist from mathematical models to human equations and, ultimately, to the translation of Shakespeare’s plays into an amalgamation of these elements.


Man Ray, Mathematical Object (1934-35). Courtesy of Marion Meyer, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015


In 1934, Man Ray, already established as a leader of the Dada and Surrealist movements, visited the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris to see a collection of three-dimensional mathematical models, made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to illustrate geometrical properties for the investigation and teaching of algebraic equations. Man Ray accepted a commission from art historian Christian Zervos to take a series of photographs in preparation for an issue of Cahiers d’Art devoted to the “Crisis of the Object.” In so doing, he transformed their appearance through innovative lighting and composition, highlighting forms that would be intriguing, dramatic, suggestive, and disturbing to the observer. His photographs exploited the viewer’s propensity to seek out readily recognizable human forms, emphasizing human and anatomical associations.


Man Ray, MATHEMATICAL OBJECT, Algebraic Surface of Degree 4 (c. 1900). Made by Joseph Caron. The Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris, France. Photo: Elie Posner

Man Ray’s photographs captivated his Surrealist colleagues and art historians and contributed to the debate regarding the importance of the Object that was becoming increasingly integral to recent developments in Surrealism. In 1936, 12 photographs were illustrated in Cahiers d’Art and his original photographs were displayed in major Surrealist exhibitions, including the International Surrealist Exhibition in London, and Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Man Ray, Aline et Valcour (1950). Private Collection.

In 1937, Man Ray published La Photographie n’est pas l’Art, L’Art n’est pas de la Photographie, a manifesto that would signal his abandonment of photography as his major artistic and commercial endeavor. This new direction reflected his renewed interest in painting in France and later engagement with object-making in Hollywood. At the start of World War II, Man Ray fled France and returned to the United States, eventually settling in Hollywood in late 1940.


Man Ray, Untitled (Mannequin with Cone and Sphere) (1926). The Bluff Collection. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Having been forced to leave the majority of his work behind, he set about repainting some of his most emblematic Surrealist paintings of the late 1930s. Even without having his photographs of the mathematical objects in his possession, the influence of geometry and mathematics remained prominent in Man Ray’s work.


Man Ray, Main Ray (1935). The Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art in the Israel Museum, B03.0076. 

During a brief trip to France in 1947, Man Ray retrieved much of his pre-war artistic output and shipped many works back to the United States. These included his photographs of the mathematical models that would inspire an ambitious series of new paintings, signaling a return to figurative “non-abstraction” painting. Ultimately dissatisfied by the typically Surrealist titles that André Breton suggested in 1936 for the corresponding photographs, Man Ray instead assigned the title of a celebrated play to each canvas and named the series Shakespearean Equations. Man Ray considered this series his “final realization of the mathematical equations.” Indeed, these 20 canvases arguably comprise the final important series of paintings by the artist and clearly reflect his affinities with Surrealism.


Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, King Lear, 1948. Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 24 1/8 in. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972 © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015. Photography by Cathy Carver

Man Ray—Human Equations is organized by The Phillips Collection and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. The exhibition will also be on view at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, June 11–September 20, 2015, followed by The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, October 20, 2015–January 23, 2016.