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marcel duchamp and man ray

  • portrait Marcel Duchamp by Man Ray, 1920
    In 1915, when Marcel Duchamp accompanied Walter C. Arensberg in 1915 to visit Man Ray in Ridgefield, NJ, the two artists, meeting for the first time, played an impromptu game of tennis. Man Ray recalled with humor: "Duchamp didnít speak English and my French was nonexistent [...] so in order to have a conversation I would give a name to each pass [...] and each time Duchamp would reply in English with a single word, "yes". (Man Ray [1963], 1964, p. 63).
  • Straightaway, they seemed to be opposites in every way. The photograph of Duchamp, taken by Man Ray in 1920-1921, shows a character sharp, elegant, his profile chiseled and his body thin under his bulky overcoat. His manner of speaking was serene and his whole demeanor cerebral: an 'éminence grise'. Man Ray on the other hand is warm and impetuous. The portrait taken of him by Alfred Stieglitz in 1915 shows the roundness of his face framed by brown curls and highlights his bright gaze. In three words: "Man Ray, n. masc., synom. de Joie, jouer, jouir [Joy, play, come]" (M. Duchamp [1975], 1994, p. 243). Not only do language and appearance separate them, their origins distinguish them as well. Duchamp, born of a notable Normandy family, received a classical education. Closely linked to his brothers and sisters, who were already recognized as artists, Marcel inherited social legitimacy and cared little for a professional career. He had "no solutions because he has no problems." (M. Duchamp, quoted in M. Sanouillet, 1998, p. 212). Man Ray on the other hand, was the child of Russian immigrants. He was raised in a modest Brooklyn household, where he helped his parents in their garment workshop. He took drawing classes in New York City, frequented anarchist groups, and unlike Duchamp, his situation worried him. Fashion photography provided Man Ray with financial security and recognition. Man Ray had "no problems, just solutions." (Man Ray, quoted in M. Sanouillet, ibid.)
  • portrait Marcel Duchamp by Man Ray, 1919
    The source for the fraternal friendship that linked the two men is to be found in their shared freedom and independence of spirit. Aside from a passion for chess, they shared a taste for the subversive and an irresistible desire to invent. Intellectually, their processes were similar. As art terrorists, they both knew how to place mines under artistic conventions, and their works, without being similar, nevertheless responded to the other. One can hardly evoke Man Rayís objects without, in the background, projecting the shadow of Duchampís ready-mades. In fact, Man Rayís taste for using objects and experimenting with language came from Duchamp. During the 1913 Armory Show, Man Ray remarked that Nu descendant un escalier might have gone unnoticed if it had a different title. "And that gave me an idea, so that after that time I always gave titles to my objects. They donít explain the work, but they add what you could call a literary element that goads the spirit.& (Man Ray photographe, 1981, p. 36).
  • Read more
    Séverine Gossart, 'Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray'translated from the French text, published in the catalogue Dada (Editions du Centre Pompidou : Paris 2005) 388-389. The translation was part of the Press Pack, published by MNAM Centre Pompidou 2005, p. 55-56 [Courtesy MNAM Centre Pompidou].
    Photo 1. Marcel Duchamp by Man Ray, New York 1920.
    Photo 2. Man Ray, Tonsure de Marcel Duchamp, Paris 1919 [Collection Sylvio Perlstein, Antwerp]
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    banner: portrait Marcel Duchamp [Photo Richard Avedon].