Local songwriter Andrew Trotter recently visited Man Ray–Human Equations while taking part in a songwriting challenge. “When I walked in, I knew there had to be a song there. After I wrote the lyrics for the challenge, trying to capture some of the qualities of Man Ray’s art, my musical collaborator from Canada, Natalie Edelson, put it to appropriately surreal music and made a demo,” says Trotter. He was kind enough to share the final product with us; check out the demo and an excerpt of the lyrics below.
White skull, pale breast
Object, soft flesh
Is that what you meant?
Won’t you come down to play,
The artists at the cafe
Are making their moves
On lovely young things today.
You pictured a derriere,
Each part of her is fair,
But this butterfly you’ll never get,
Slipped out of your camera’s net.
What is this game you play,
Why don’t you let things stay
As they are—you’re pushing it way too far.
(left) Man Ray, Aline et Valcour, 1950. Oil on canvas, 30 x 38 in. Private Collection. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015 (right) Man Ray, Untitled (Mannequin with Cone and Sphere), 1926. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 1/4 in. The Bluff Collection. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015
Titling this work after a novel written by the Marquis de Sade while he was incarcerated in the Bastille in the 1780s, Man Ray pays homage to the literary figure greatly admired by the Surrealists. The novel Aline et Valcour explores the relativity of moral standards, a theme the viewer is encouraged to find embedded in this cryptic composition based on Man Ray’s photograph featuring the same elements.
What similarities between Man Ray’s photograph (at right) and his painting (at left) of the subject do you notice? What differences stand out?
(Left) Ellsworth Kelly, Red Relief, 2009. Oil on canvas, two joined panels, 80 x 62 1/2 x 2 5/8 in. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist © Ellsworth Kelly (middle) Joan Miró, The Red Sun, 1948. Oil and gouache on canvas, 36 1/8 x 28 1/8 in. Acquired 1951. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (right) Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1948. Painted sheet metal and wire, 26 x 26 x 5 1/2 in. Gift from the estate of Katherine S. Dreier, 1953. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Read Part I of this series
It is always fun to hear the stories behind a work of art, giving an otherwise unknown perspective on the painting. Duncan Phillips wanted to show “art beyond ‘isms,’” and I found it interesting that while he was not keen on surrealism, he acquired Joan Miró’s The Red Sun (1948) on the grounds that it fit in with the rest of his collection. Our guide for this spotlight talk, Paul Ruther, pointed out this connectivity and discussed the painting’s similarities to other works currently on view nearby–the surrounding Ellsworth Kelly panels (use of similar, bright primary colors) and Alexander Calder mobiles (floating objects in space).
Miró’s whimsy was not only evident in his art, but also his personality. After visiting the United States and New York for the first time, he returned to Spain with an unusual souvenir—sidewalk toys, which he added to his personal toy collection. In fact, some of the toys’ faces are strikingly similar to the background face in this painting!
Hannah Hoffman, Marketing Intern