When his father, a Jewish tailor in Philadelphia, ditched the family surname in 1912, the aspiring artist Emmanuel Radnitzky (1890–1976) became MAN RAY. A few years later, he abandoned conventional-style art for Dada. Although his ties to Dada and Surrealism were informal, Man Ray’s experimental painting, photography, sculpture, and cinema made significant contributions to both movements; watch for tailoring symbolism in his oeuvre: irons and ironing boards, scissors, mannequins. His semiotic tinkering in all these media would influence everyone from Andy Warhol to fashion photographers Steven Meisel and Ellen Van Unworth. But the important thing to keep in mind is that Man Ray was funny. His 1933 Erotique voilée series, shot with an ink-smeared Surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim, most famous today for her fur-covered cup (“Object”), is not only art but playful schtick (“Is that a printing press handle or are you just happy to see me?”), noir vaudeville. It’s performance art before such a thing existed. As such, it’s an allegory of the Surrealist project itself.
READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884–93).