Man Ray: An Artist Any Designer Could Love

A new show featuring the modernist artist opens this week at the Jewish Museum.

Man Ray has one of the coolest names in the history of art. However, he was born Emmanuel Radnitzky. He rejected his birth name moved to Paris in 1921 and became the sole American in the vanguard of Parisian Modernism. This transformation represented a conflicted identity and his deep desire to escape the limitations of his Russian Jewish past.

Man Ray

“Le Violon d’Ingres,” 1924. Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs Collection. © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Opening this Sunday at The Jewish Museum in New York City, is an impressive survey of Man Ray’s art. The show entitled Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention includes a stunning collection of drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, “rayographs,” poetry, and short films. This work is evidence of a curious mind in the fast lane of continuous experimentation.

Man Ray is also an artist that any graphic designer could love.

man ray

“Lingerie,” print from the portfolio Électricité, 1931. Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York. Museum purchase with funds provided by Andrea B. and Peter D. Klein. © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

His art is direct, raw at times with a pervasive sense of design. His photos of nudes are sensuous. His paintings are bold and poster like. His sculpture is provocative. Man Ray’s art simultaneously fits into the categories of Dadaism, Surrealism, and Modernism. There’s plenty of Duchamp, Magritte and De Chirico influence here but in the end it’s all Man Ray. Some of his most celebrated works are in the show.

man ray

Gift, c. 1958 (replica of 1921 original). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. James Thrall Soby Fund, 1966. © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.


This is the kind of show that The Jewish Museum does best. Curated by Mason Klein, it is well researched and authoritative with a deft balance of the iconic and the new. The exhibition designed by architects Imrey/Culbert provides an elegantly spare backdrop and stays out of Man Ray’s way.


“Image á deux faces,” 1959. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. George L. Lindemann, Florida. © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

As a designer, I’m always looking for sources of inspiration. Man Ray’s work provides me with an easy bridge to visual possibilities for commercial application. In fact, he also leveraged his creativity to pay the bills. I have a few Harper’s Bazaar magazines from the 1930s that contain Ray’s fashion photos. As with much of the work from this period, these images looks strikingly contemporary.

many ray

“Rayograph,” 1926, gelatin silver print. Private Collection, New York. © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

In the short biographical film on view, Man Ray, looking like a disheveled Woody Allen, proudly claims that he is a “free man” This is quite apparent in the liberated spirit that twisted and turned stylistically whenever it pleased while producing an inspiring body of work, all in disguise.

[The Jewish Museum; opens on November 15 and runs through March 14, 2010]


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Ken Carbone is among America’s most
respected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its clarity and
intelligence. He has built an international reputation creating
outstanding programs for world-class clients, including Tiffany &
Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie’s, Nonesuch Records, the W
Hotel Group, and The Taubman Company. His clients also include
celebrated cultural institutions such as the Museé du Louvre, The
Museum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago Symphony
Orchestra, and the High Museum of Art.


About the author

Ken Carbone is a designer, artist, musician, author and teacher. He is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, a design and branding company in New York City