An Impossible Equation

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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.

Sneak Peek: Man Ray–Human Equations

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(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

Above is an example of what you’ll see in Man Ray–Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare, opening in less than two weeks. The exhibition centers on Man Ray’s (1890–1976) Shakespearean Equations, a series of paintings inspired by photographs of mathematical models he made in Paris in the 1930s. Within the galleries, you’ll see the original mathematical models, Man Ray’s inventive photographs of the objects, and the corresponding Shakespearean Equation painting displayed side-by-side for the first time.

For The Birds (Of Prey)

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Gjon Mili, Sparrow Hawk about to Land on Gloved Hand of Young Boy, ca. 1942. Gelatin silver print overall: 10 in x 8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Gift of Adam and Susan Finn, 2012.

Our neighbors at the Smithsonian American Art Museum are holding an #ArtBirds Social Media Scavenger Hunt during September and October, and if there’s one animal that you’ll see over and over again in works at The Phillips Collection, it’s birds. We have a lot of them. We thought it only fitting to jump in on the fun! This week’s theme is “Birds of Prey,” so we’re submitting this photo of an oddly cheerful boy who’s about to come into direct contact with a hawk roughly the size of his head. Happy #ArtBird-watching!