Sea Shells, Galaxies, and Lampshades: Man Ray’s Spiral Obsession

Lampshade_installation shot with shadow

Lampshade, 1919 (editioned replica, 1964), Painted aluminum. Private collection, courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan


Nature, from the sea shell to the galaxy, is full of spirals. When I was a young man, I was already obsessed with this form; when working as a draughtsman I was fascinated by curves, spirals, parabolas, hyperbolas.”

 –Man Ray


In 1919, inspired by the chance discovery of an unraveled paper lampshade in the trash, Man Ray created Lampshade, one of the earliest manifestations of his obsession with the spiral. Like many of his other objects, this work continued to exist as a concept even after the original was lost, becoming better known through photographic translations and the 1939 painting Le Retour à la raison (Return to Reason). Man Ray made multiple replicas of Lampshade, including one featured in the 1944 exhibition Objects of My Affection.

650 shades of #InstaManRay

It’s only been about three weeks since Man Ray–Human Equations opened, but we’ve already received over 650 submissions from our in-gallery #InstaManRay interactive. Visitors to the exhibition have the opportunity to experience Man Ray’s artistic process by using social media app Instagram to photograph mathematical models and share their creations. Here’s just a sample of the inspired work.

Follow submissions throughout the exhibition via our Instagram account @InstaManRay2015 or #InstaManRay.


An Impossible Equation

Equation_installation shot ptg and drawing

Man Ray’s Equation (1947, oil on canvas, 16 × 20 1/8 in, private collection) alongside the drawing that preceded it.

Man Ray painted Equation (at left above) in Hollywood based on his 1939 drawing (at right). While the composition reveals recognizable elements from different mathematical models that appear in other Shakespearean Equation paintings, this canvas contains no suggestion of human entities or references to Shakespeare. It is also the only painting in the series that does not replicate any model in its entirety. Nonetheless, Equation notably foreshadows the Shakespearean Equations project, and Man Ray subsequently incorporated the canvas into the series.