Man Ray, African Art & the Modernist Lens.
By Wendy A. Grossman.
International Arts & Artists, 2009. 200 pp., 282 black & white illustrations, 9x11¾".
This groundbreaking analysis spotlights a select group of Man Ray’s photographs within the context of modernist photographic history and the “discovery” of African art by the early twentieth-century avant-garde. Featuring more than seventy photographs by Man Ray—some never before reproduced—alongside many rarely seen photographs of African art by his European and American contemporaries, Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens uncovers a virtually unknown chapter in both the inventive activities of this celebrated artist and in this overlooked facet of photographic history.
Meticulously researched and compellingly presented, Wendy A. Grossman raises thought-provoking questions about the role photographs played in shaping perceptions of African art and, in turn, how such images led to distinctive modernist viewpoints across racial and geographic boundaries. Particularly notable is the treatment of the African pieces both as integral components of the modernist history to which they contributed and, as elucidated by groundbreaking scholarship by African art experts, objects with their own independent cultural histories.
Revealing a more complex engagement with African art by Man Ray and his contemporaries than has been previously known, Grossman provides a rich and nuanced study that makes an important addition to our understanding of critical issues in modernism that continue to influence the way we see African art today.
“Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens single-handedly resuscitates the photograph as a critical and almost completely overlooked medium in promoting the popularity and understanding of l'art nègre for a western audience. The monumental studies of Robert Goldwater and William Rubin—comprehensive and engaging though they may have been—overlooked the influential role played by the photograph in this context, a regrettable lacunae this endeavor seeks to fulfill. Not only does this exhibition and catalogue complete a chapter in our understanding of Man Ray's work, but its cross-cultural approach allows us to see how the medium of photography influenced the infusion and comprehension of African and other non-western arts in the west, not only among artists, but by the general public as well.” —Francis M. Naumann, author of Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray
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