Man Ray’s Shakespearean Equations: All’s Well That Ends Well


(left) Mathematical Object: Algebraic Surface of Degree 4, c. 1900. Wood, 3 1/8 x 2 3/8 in. Made by Joseph Caron. The Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris, France. Photo: Elie Posner (middle) Man Ray, Mathematical Object, 1934-35. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 x 11 3/4 in. Courtesy of Marion Meyer, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015 (right) Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, All’s Well that Ends Well, 1948. Oil on canvas, 16 x 19 7/8 in. Courtesy of Marion Meyer, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Defying easy categorization as comedy or tragedy, Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well—with its curious mixture of fairytale logic, gender role reversals, and cynical realism—and Man Ray’s corresponding painting provide a fitting finale to this journey from mathematics to Shakespeare. Removing the wood and metal supports of the mathematical models (seen in the left and middle images above) and placing the untethered forms against an undulating white cloth, Man Ray created a composition in which the objects occupy an ambiguous space between the real and the surreal. These small models find their apotheosis almost a decade later in a 1956 pen-and ink drawing, attesting to the fact that the models he encountered in 1930s Paris continued to haunt and inspire him for years to come. They have gone from three-dimensional objects, once of great utility to mathematicians, into abstract, ethereal forms.

Wendy Grossman, Exhibition Curator

Man Ray’s Shakespearean Equations: As You Like It

Man Ray_As You Like It

Man Ray, As You Like It, 1948. Oil on canvas, mounted in the artist’s frame, 28 1/8 × 24 1/8 in. including frame. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966

As Man Ray launched into his Shakespearean Equations project, he reworked a canvas from 1940 titled Disillusion. Transforming the composition into As You Like It, the artist removed the disembodied hand, changed the globe-like sphere into a celestial form, and encased the floating orb in a rectangular trompe l’oeil frame. Although not inspired by any specific mathematical model, this painting opens a window into the evolution of the Shakespearean Equations series, as Man Ray re-conceptualized geometric forms and introduced them in new contexts.

Wendy Grossman, Exhibition Curator

Can You See Infinity?

Hiroshi Sugimoto, one of Japan’s preeminent contemporary artists,  presents the Duncan Phillips Lecture this Thursday. In anticipation, Marketing Intern Annie Dolan considers two works from the artist’s exhibition currently on view at the Phillips.

Surface of Revolution Constant_Annie Dolan

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s sculpture Surface of Revolution with Constant Negative Curvature (Mathematical Model 009) (2006) in front of his similar 2D work, Surface of Revolution with Constant Negative Curvature (Conceptual Form 0010) (2004)

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s sculpture Surface of Revolution with Constant Negative Curvature (Mathematical Model 009), pictured above, aesthetically conceptualizes the indescribable phenomenon of infinity. Even mathematicians accept the enigma of the infinity concept, something that can grow so large that it never truly ends. Sugimoto’s upward-extending sculpture made of reflective aluminum may physically end, but the contour lines creating the edges of the surface don’t appear to converge to a point, and instead look as if they’re disappearing into thin air. We are meant to believe that these lines can continue forever without ever touching.

Such a concept is perhaps more easily understood in two-dimensional form. On a gallery wall nearby this sculpture is a black and white monochrome photo that the artist took. The same conical shape is featured, but the lines that extend three-dimensionally into thin air are shown cropped at the top border of the photograph. This cropping indicates more obviously that these lines can truly extend without end, and that the zoomed-in image of the sculpture is part of a much larger object.

When approached in this light, we can also find infinity among less abstract art forms. In a way, the cropped image that we see on the wall of a gallery is only a part of a larger scene. We could think of every landscape, still life, or portrait as existing in real, infinite space. While we might not be able to see such an infinity, we know that it is there. By prompting such conversations, Sugimoto connects the ideas of art and mathematics that might not seem so obvious. Infinity is therefore found in many art forms, and can, despite popular belief, be visualized.

Annie Dolan, Marketing and Communications Intern