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
Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, Twelfth Night, 1948. Oil on canvas, 34 1/8 x 30 1/8 in. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015. Photography by Lee Stalsworth
In contrast to other Shakespearean Equation paintings, which feature a single or a pair of mathematical models, Twelfth Night unites eight forms. Two additional “foreign” items—an ostrich egg and a phallic object—reference other Man Ray works. Like the love triangle and complex plot of the Shakespearean play evoked by the work’s title, this intricate gathering of many improbable objects suggests similarly complicated and overlapping relationships.
(left) Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, King Lear, 1948. Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 24 1/8 in. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015. Photography by Cathy Carver (right) Mathematical Object: Kummer Surface with Eight Real Double Points, c. 1900. Plaster with metal supports, 7 1/2 × 11 × 5 7/8 in. Brill-Schilling Collection. Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris. Photo: Elie Posner
Man Ray placed the painted canvas of King Lear onto a wooden hoop, turning the work into a three-dimensional object and referencing the recurring motif in his work of “squaring the circle.” In rendering this mathematical model on canvas, Man Ray removed the supports integral to the original object (seen in the image above right), leaving the model afloat in an ambiguous space. He commented: “The color had dripped somewhat, it looked like tears, I called the painting King Lear.” This title-inspiring effect—whether truly fortuitous or intentional—echoes a drip technique he exploited in other works.