Tel Aviv Museum of Art Shows a Portfolio of 10 Pochoirs by Man Ray
By Irith Hadar
posted: 09-08-09
Man Ray, Revolving Doors, 1926

Man Ray (1890 Philadelphia – 1976 Paris) created Revolving Doors between 1916 and 1917 as a series of collages made from brightly colored translucent paper, which became the major exhibit in his third one-person show at the Daniel Gallery, New York (1919). In 1926 these images were published as pochoirs (true to the original) in a portfolio, and in 1942, noticing that the early collages began to fade, Ray reproduced them in oil on canvas. These paintings appear in several photographs taken in his studio.

Revolving Doors is not the only instance in Ray's oeuvre—which is typified by self-references and quotes—where images are re-executed in different techniques. At least one image in the collage version of Revolving Doors (no. 5, Legend) was formulated earlier (albeit in a different structure) in an oil painting (Legend, 1916). The need for freedom and ingenuity which guided Ray's work in all media, and his awareness of the significance of the context in which the works are viewed, were tied with the license to (frequently) revisit a former invention. Thus, in printing the collage images, Ray relinquished the uniqueness and singularity of the "original" for the ability to disseminate these images in the context of the Surrealist avant-garde, whereas 25 years later—in an entirely different cultural era—he revisited the images originally created as an innovative, avant-garde collage, fixing them in a durable, traditional painterly medium.

This oscillation among media was a pivotal element in Ray's artistic practice. His definition of himself as someone living a double life as a painter-photographer indeed echoed the professional "categorizations" prevalent in his era; at the same time, however, in rejecting his ascription to a specific medium, as well as in the inventiveness which characterized his practice, and the underlying principle of his work—whereby the practice serves the image, and the medium selected for its execution (painting, photography, cinema, object) is the one deemed most suitable for articulation of the idea—Ray emphasized art's conceptual aspect. The explicit pleasure with freedom and the joy of playfulness only enhanced Ray's attentiveness to the possibilities introduced by the contingency or chance inherent in the creative process. Let us remember that play and amusement, as modes of inhibition-liberating stimuli, were considered a serious matter in the Dada and Surrealist circles, a fact which did not prevent Marcel Duchamp—Ray's patron, friend, and chess partner—from describing the latter somewhat critically: "Man Ray—synonym of the masculine gender … pleasure playing and pleasuring."

In 1916-17, when he initially formulated the transparency games in Revolving Doors, Ray was in the midst of his discovery of photography—which theretofore served him mainly to document his works—as a relevant artistic medium. The photographic thought and its means are clearly discernible in these papers alongside painterly thought, whereby I refer mainly to the applications of light, which will later become central to Ray's photographic work. His interest in light resulted in an engagement with glass plate negatives (cliché-verre) and solarization, leading to the invention of the Rayographs (photograms with an aspect of depth). In his staged photographs, Ray thus structured juxtapositions between shadows and objects, bright and dark areas, flatness and depth, charging a surprising dramatic effect with familiar motifs (such as portraits or still life).

The images featured in Revolving Doors are not abstract. The forms originated in objects which Ray found engaging, kept in his immediate vicinity, and even presented in many paintings and photographs. The flat images of the given object appear as the silhouettes of a colorful light projection, yet their coloration is based on the primary colors of matter—red, blue, and yellow, and the hues created by their overlapping. The intersection also generates the appearance of a third dimension, which is enhanced against the whiteness of the paper—as if the layers of paint, the contour outlines, and mainly the scratched silvery overcoat on the last print in the set (Dragonfly) are not fixed on the same surface. Ray's use of primary colors is not aimed at the scientific or the "essential," but rather accentuates the choice of readymade. Much like his objects, which served as a source for forms, the red-blue-yellow are indeed given—albeit under the specific, random circumstances of their formalizations, combinations, and superimpositions, they spawn an unexpected formal and colorful wealth, and are perceived as frames of the "decisive moment" extracted from a sequence of occurrences in progress. Aptly, the pochoir technique used for the images' reproduction is likewise based on concealment and exposure.

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