THE GLORY YEARS : MAN RAY & KIKI
His name was Emmanuel Radnitsky, her name was Alice Prin, but we know them best as Man Ray and Kiki. They were the heroes of Montparnasse for a while– they knew everyone who was anyone in those madcap days of Paris in the Twenties. He was a painter and a photographer; she was his model and also his lover for a while.
Man Ray attended art classes in New York. There he met and worked with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, who had formed the basis of the Dada at Alfred Steiglitz’s gallery. Man Ray was interested in “light”’ and began using photography as a tool for expressing light. It was in 1921 that he decided to go to Paris.
He moved into the Hotel Boulainvillers and was introduced to the Dadaists by Duchamp, who offered Ray a maid’s room in his apartment at 22, rue La Condamine. Here the use of photography and the filming of rotating spiral objects began. Man Ray began fashion photography for Paul Poiret’s latest outfits and portraits of famous people, such as Jean Cocteau, who sat for Ray in his studio.
Attracted to the animated excitement of cosmopolitan Montparnasse, Man Ray moved into the Hôtel des Ecoles on rue Delambre. He exhibited his work at La Librarie Six, but nothing was sold. He seriously set out to photograph portraits, and success followed.
Enter Kiki of Montparnasse, born in 1901 in Burgundy. She was a classic beauty with jet-black hair cut short and curly. She had been painted by Kisling and Foujita. She agreed to pose for Man Ray, who she thought had “a cute accent and an air of mystery.” In 1921 they were living together, first at the tiny Hôtel Istria, next door to his famous studio on rue Campaign Premiere. Their torrid love affair has been documented often. Kiki became as famous in what she called “the land of liberty.” She was a vibrant, warm and sexy girl in love. She was like a glowing sun.
But although she and Man Ray had become famous, their relationship faded. She continued to be the central character and most famous personality of the bistro set in Montparnasse, while every American artist visited Man Ray’s studio. He invented the “rayograph,” while Kiki left for America, where she was going to follow a career in the movies–it turned out to be an utter failure.
Kiki eventually returned to Paris and began to paint. She had a very successful exhibition in March 1927 at 5 rue du Cherche Midi at a gallery called S acrÃ© de Printemps. In 1929 she published her memoirs, with an introduction by Hemingway and a translation by Samuel Putnam.
Others worked with Man Ray and became famous. Lee Miller was a beautiful young woman who became the center of Man Ray’s life for a while. She went to Biarritz as his assistant and returned as his student. One day when she was working on a tray full of prints, she turned on the lights and something ran across her foot; it might have been a mouse, and she was frightened. What resulted was the discovery of the “solorization process.”
But like Kiki, Lee slept with anyone she chose to, while Man Ray suffered from bouts of severe jealousy. He went on an orange-juice diet (considered dangerous in those days) and threatened rivals with a revolver.
By 1926 he had employed Bernice Abbott as his assistant; he was now interested in film and the Surrealist revolution. He had a film exhibition in 1926 at Gallerie SurrÃ©aliste, and between 1927 and 1939 he photographed nudes and made portraits and films that were exhibited in America.
In 1940 man Ray left his famous studio at 31-31bis rue Campagne Première and fled to America just before the German occupation of Paris. Once there, he settled in Hollywood and exhibited in California and New York. In 1946, he participated in a double wedding in Beverly Hills when his close friend Max Ernst married Dorothea Tanning and Man Ray married Juliet Browner.
The couple returned to Europe in 1951 and staged exhibitions in Cologne, Venice, London, Milan, and Paris. In 1974 Andy Warhol dedicated a portrait to Man Ray, as well as a series of pictures and serigraphs. Man Ray died in Paris on November 18th 1976. He and Juliet are buried at the Montparnasse cemetery, very near the studio he had occupied so successfully. On the grave is a picture, dated 1881, of Juliet and Man Ray and the words ”together again.”
An exhibition organized by the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris was drawn from the Man Ray Archives donated in 1994. The archive contains 13,500 negatives and over 5,000 contact prints. These prints are like an artist’s sketches and offer historians a chance to study the photographer’s work. They demonstrate Man Ray’s careful thought and hard work. He was a pace-setter, a discoverer, a man ahead of his time.