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Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens

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Simone Kahn, wife of Andre Breton, poses for Man Ray with a Vanautu sculpture in 1927

Simone Kahn, wife of Andre Breton, poses for Man Ray with a Vanautu sculpture in 1927.

No, that’s not an arts elective that you passed on during sophomore year. Rather, it’s the title of an ongoing exhibition at The Phillips Collection highlighting the role of surrealist photographer Man Ray “in shaping international understanding of African objects as art…in the 1920s and 1930s.”

Long before native art became a part of the cultural mainstream, Man Ray — born Emmanuel Radnitsky in 1890 — began to incorporate tribal cravings imported from colonial West Africa into his ethereal portraiture.

Through January 10th, “Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens” will be exhibiting more than one hundred photos from this period of the prolific photographer’s career, alongside the original “masks, carved figures, utilitarian objects” that the artist acquired in flea markets and curio shops during his two decade stay in Paris.

Additionally, the gallery will also be hosting two of their monthly“Phillips After 5″ lecture tours of the exhibition during December and January, in addition to a third evening presentation on the 17th. Each will examine a different aspect of Man Ray’s pioneering work behind the camera. They are as follows:

December 3rd: Très Chic: Man Ray and Fashion
Man Ray\’s fashion photographs of Kiki de Montparnasse, Nancy Cunard, and Madame de Saint Exupéry in Vogue and Harper\’s Bazaar helped bring African objects into the popular conscious.

December 17th: What A Little Unknown Can Do: Non-Western Art and the Avant Garde
Dada and surrealist artists including Hanna Hoch, Man Ray, and Roger Parry were fascinated by formal, conceptual, and spiritual properties of objects from African and Oceanic cultures.

January 7th: Lights! Camera! Action! The Drama of Man Ray\’s Photographs

Man Ray\’s choices of lighting, pose, and composition filled his photographs of African and Oceanic art objects with drama.

For more information, visit the Phillips’ Man Ray site here and, to check out more goings-on in the DC area, keep up with the CultureMob blog or follow us on Twitter.