At the center of modern art history is a love story between two artists who could not live with or without each other. The Peabody Essex Museum
(PEM) presents Man Ray | Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism featuring 76 works by two giants of the Surrealism movement and other renowned artists in their circle including Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, and Le Corbusier.
From 1929 to 1932, Man Ray and Lee Miller lived together in Paris, first as teacher and student, and later as lovers. Their mercurial relationship resulted in some of the most powerful work of each artist's career and helped shape the course of modern art. Combining rare vintage photographs, paintings, sculpture and drawings, this exhibition tells the story of the artists' brief but intense relationship in Paris, their lifelong friendship, and the unique nature of their creative partnership. It also offers a window into the maelstrom of artistic and social experimentation that animated Paris in the 1930s and gave inspiration to writers, poets, filmmakers, musicians and visual artists of all stripes.
"This exhibition is a microcosm of Surrealism, embodied by two people and their feelings for each other. Together, Man Ray and Lee Miller became the ultimate Surrealist object - two people who were inescapably drawn to each other, but could not make it work," said Phillip Prodger, PEM Curator of Photography.
Despite the impact their relationship had on both artists, this will be the first exhibition ever organized that features Man Ray and Lee Miller together on equal terms. Lee Miller is regarded here as an artist and potent Surrealist force in her own right rather than a mere foil for Man Ray's work. Historically, Miller has been described as Ray's muse, but their love affair was in fact a key source of mutual and sustained inspiration which pushed the art of their time in a new direction.
Man Ray was a leader in two pioneering Modern art movements, Surrealism and Dada, but was never deeply invested in either categorization. Although accomplished as an avant-garde photographer, he defied labels and thought of himself as a painter first, ultimately wed to no single medium. Man Ray's camerawork marked a turning point in the integration of photography among other visual art forms. An artist with great clarity of intention, Ray combined incongruous objects, asking the viewer to make sense of the result. In tune with Duchamp, Man Ray was also a master of the Readymade, elevating ordinary objects as art. He channeled his agony over Lee Miller's departure into a life of productive creativity, often lovingly and cleverly referring to her via coded motifs.
Lee Miller started her career as a fashion model, the ultimate 'it-girl' of 1920s America. With the encouragement of Edward Steichen for whom she was a favorite subject, she moved behind the camera and sought out Man Ray as a teacher. She quickly gained mastery of darkroom and camera techniques to become a photographer with her own vision to impart. So completely did she absorb Man Ray's instruction that for a time, Miller persuaded Ray to let her take on their photography projects enabling him to devote more time to painting and other media. Their collaboration resulted in technical innovations such as the effect of solarization and the coalescence of the surrealist idiom. Working in tandem and separately, Ray tended more to the studio and she took to the streets. After she and Ray parted, she remained a photographer for two decades, including a seminal period as World War II war correspondent for Condé Nast. A first-hand witness to some of the worst atrocities of her time, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder that later hampered her productivity. Her works are rarely seen outside the UK.
Lee Miller's photographs as well as the work of many of the other Surrealist artists in this exhibition appear courtesy of the Lee Miller Archives housed at Farley Farm House in Chiddingly, England. Farley Farm House is the family estate of Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, and was a regular stop for some of the world's most important modern artists including those represented in this exhibition.