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Stockings, fashion, surrealism! How Man Ray modified the style business | Artwork

Man Ray’s first trend shoot was a catastrophe. It was 1922, and the artist had simply arrived in Paris from New York with one suitcase, $100 and the singular aim of changing into one of many brilliant younger issues of dadaism alongside Duchamp and André Breton.

He had been taking pictures for just a few years, however primarily portraits (Jean Cocteau was an early Paris sitter), and never all the time enthusiastically. He later mentioned “images is just not artwork”, and that he would solely shoot issues he couldn’t paint. Nonetheless, he had no cash, so when he was commissioned by Paul Poiret, the French couturier who took girls out of corsets and put them into harem pants, he agreed. Again then, illustrations had been the go-to for trend homes, however Poiret was after one thing a bit completely different, which Man Ray was. Besides the American turned up on the salon with no concept what he was doing. The lights weren’t proper, and the electrics broke on set. Poiret didn’t like the photographs and refused to pay.

These pictures, among the many early work as soon as described as “appallingly banal” by the French critic Alain Sayag, by no means noticed the sunshine of day. However they turned Man Ray’s Damascene second. In accordance with Romy Cockx, curator of a brand new exhibition at Antwerp’s MoMu, which seems to be at how trend knowledgeable Man Ray’s work and the way he, in flip, influenced the business, “his want to be accepted as a painter meant he dismissed his work as a trend photographer and images as an entire. But, he was happy with these photographs, happy with what he had created”.

Left: Olivier Theyskens, Spring-Summer 1999 © MoMu, photo: Julien Claessens & Thomas Deschamps. Right: Man Ray, La Chevelure, 1927, private collection, Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan.
Left: Olivier Theyskens, Spring-Summer time 1999, © MoMu, photograph: Julien Claessens & Thomas Deschamps. Proper: Man Ray, La Chevelure, 1927, personal assortment, Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan. {Photograph}: (c) Man Ray 2015 Belief, Sabam Belgium 2023

Man Ray went on to take portraits of Parisian excessive society and shoot for trend magazines and numerous beauty manufacturers, whereas toying with completely different photographic strategies equivalent to solarisation (exposing {a partially} developed {photograph} to mild to create a darkish define) and double exposures. There have been, it appears, two Man Rays. One, the world-famous surrealist who turned banal objects into artistic endeavors, and the opposite, a prolific trend photographer who parked his unease concerning the business to create a physique of labor which, ultimately, accounted for greater than his whole non-fashion work put collectively. It additionally purchased him a pleasant home in Hollywood. With out one, it appears, we wouldn’t have the opposite.

The MoMu present has a brief run, largely since you merely can’t have a 110-year-old costume on show for too lengthy. Based mostly on variations held in Marseille and Luxembourg that passed off in and across the Covid pandemic, it goals – by and enormous efficiently – to reconstruct Man Ray’s profession throughout the Twenties and Thirties utilizing greater than 200 pictures, whereas contextualising his work inside previous and modern trend by Chanel, Lanvin, Loewe and Martin Margiela.

The present opens with coat hangers. A single one whose wire has been folded right into a pair of breasts from the 90s by the Belgian designer Margiela – and a 1920 assemblage of 63 wood ones known as Obstruction, by Man Ray. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia in 1890 (he modified his title as an adolescent), his dad and mom had been Russian immigrants with a background in trend. His mom was a seamstress and his father a tailor who would carry purchasers residence for fittings. Man Ray by no means explicitly cited both as having any impression on his profession however equally, “if he was the son of a butcher, likelihood is these can be knives hanging from the ceiling,” says Cockx.

Of the 200 pictures, most are of his lovers, Lee Miller and Kiki de Montparnasse, which the exhibition convincingly hyperlinks to the clothes beside them. In accordance with Belgian trend knowledgeable and MoMu information, Katleen Derijcke, Margiela (fairly innocently) by no means made a direct hyperlink between his work and that of Man Ray. It’s an intriguing declare, one which remembers Tony Benn studying Marx as a middle-aged man and discovering that the German had “already come to the conclusion I’d come to about capitalism” over a century earlier than him. Margiela’s 1996 spring/summer season assortment options photographic negatives of articles of clothes; his 2008 physique go well with is overlaid with a black trompe l’oeil bra. It’s all undeniably Man Ray.

Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979). American art patron and collector. Wearing a gown designed by Paul Poiret. Photographed by Man Ray, 1925.
Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979), American artwork patron and collector, carrying a robe designed by Paul Poiret, photographed by Man Ray, 1925. {Photograph}: Granger/Historic Image Archive/Alamy

In truth it’s exceptional what number of designers borrowed from Coat Stand, Man Ray’s first nude, in 1920. The trompe l’oeil impact, made well-known by Man Ray in his picture of a girl behind a coat stand carrying black stockings, has been replicated repeatedly, as seen in a 2022 Loewe costume with a pair of balloons overlaying the breasts. Cockx additionally sourced a trompe l’oeil knit by Celine in 2012 which is nearly equivalent to 1 worn in a 1930 picture of Miller.

This being Antwerp, the main focus elsewhere is on Belgian designers. Some you might not have heard of (Norine and Timmermans) and a few you probably have (Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten). A part of the Antwerp 6, these trend college students who graduated from the Royal Academy of High-quality arts between 1978 and 1982 had been among the many most extremely regarded designers of their technology. They got their title as a result of, after storming European catwalks, not one of the press may pronounce their surnames. Margiela is older, however thought-about to be an honorary member.

Man Ray’s trend work correct is split between 20 years and two magazines, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1924, he landed a six-year gig capturing for the previous, which coincided with that decade’s receding hems and dropped waists. A change of workers at Vogue meant Man Ray stopped in 1930 earlier than signing a contract with the extra avant garde Harper’s Bazaar in 1934. Carmel Snow, its editor, inspired the photographer’s methods – it was right here that he was inspired to make use of solarisation as customary.

“It’s not all the time apparent what’s trend images and what’s not,” says Cockx, of Man Ray’s work. Who else may glue glass beads to a girl’s face (Les Larmes, 1932) and use it to promote Cosmecil mascara? His well-known shot of Peggy Guggenheim in a Poiret costume, her again to the digicam and a coy flip to the lens, seemed like a trend editorial however was actually a portrait. One other {photograph} exhibits a mannequin carrying a gold robe by Madeleine Vionnet reclining in a wheelbarrow padded with pink satin. It seems to be like surrealism however actually appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in 1937. Moderately than distract from the costume, the angle by some means elevates it. “The distinction between the glamour and the sensible is so arresting you possibly can see why this type of factor ended up in magazines,” says Cockx.

Most intriguing maybe had been the angles – both fowl’s eye or worm’s eye view – and poses. Man Ray made his fashions mimic mannequins and even launched props equivalent to the massive white birds he commissioned from the sculptor Giacometti as backdrops to a Chanel shoot in 1937. It was this business interaction between incomes cash, making artwork and poking enjoyable at trend, that made him a precursor to Andy Warhol.

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If today, fashion is about selling a complete lifestyle rather than a single dress, we can probably chalk that up to these techniques. Most of the time, the clothes play second fiddle to the image. Fashion magazines today are often contractually obliged to shoot whole looks straight off the catwalk.

Left: Man Ray, Rayographie “Kiki”, 1922 © Man Ray 2015 Trust/Adagp, Paris, 2023, photo: Telimage/Adagp Images. Right: Dirk Van Saene, Autumn-Winter, 2008-09 © MoMu, photo: Hugo Maertens.
Left: Man Ray, Rayographie ‘Kiki’, 1922 © Man Ray 2015 Trust/Adagp, Paris, 2023, photo: Telimage/Adagp Images. Right: Dirk Van Saene, Autumn-Winter, 2008-09 © MoMu, photo: Hugo Maertens.

Between 1936 and 1938, Man Ray’s work would appear in every issue of Harper’s Bazaar. However reluctant he was to photograph Schiaparelli gowns, he knew better than to bite the hand that fed him: “I was going to make money – not wait for recognition that might or might not come,” he wrote in his memoir, Self-Portrait.

Impressively, most of the clothing comes from the archive – “clothes really don’t travel well, and other museums would do well to observe this”, says MoMu’s head curator, Kaat Debo. Still, this is a tricky time for fashion exhibitions. “Everyone wants a blockbuster,” she says. “But there is a tension between public and privately funded museums. In the past, we’ve seen big brands put on exhibitions, which they’ve extensively toured in important markets, and with bigger budgets. But there is a different and specific role that publicly funded exhibitions can and should take up, which is to be more critical of the industry – the impact fashion has on society and the planet. We can deal with the creativity of fashion but also the dark side.”

While it’s unlikely Man Ray would have endorsed such an exhibition, the snobbery he held as a young man in Paris must have softened: towards the end of his life he was often seen scouring secondhand bookshops looking for old copies of Vogue. “Financially it absolutely helped his career, but also with fame, and he knew that,” Cockx says. Noire et blanche, a surrealist shot of Man Ray’s lover, Kiki de Montparnasse, beside a black mask, was published in Vogue in 1926. In 2017, it sold for over $3m at Christie’s, Paris.

“The reason the photographs in the exhibition are so small is because they’re from negatives found in one of his last ateliers,” says Cockx. “The fact that he didn’t destroy them suggests they mattered to him, one way or another.”

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