Collection 1880s–1940s

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky). The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows. 1916 569

Oil on canvas, 52" x 6' 1 3/8" (132.1 x 186.4 cm). Gift of G. David Thompson. © 2024 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Anne Umland: My name is Anne Umland. I'm a Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture. So this work has a very long title: The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with her Shadows.

According to Man Ray, he began this work by making three separate drawings of a tightrope dancer. And then he enlarged and transferred them onto sheets of brightly colored paper. He cut around the dancers forms. And the strange thing is that he decided to retain only the surrounding scrap pieces, the negative shapes, which he noticed formed an abstract pattern after he discarded them onto the floor. So he then transcribed them onto his canvas for the large overlapping fields of color that you see here.

When he chose to use that chance-formed abstract pattern as really the primary subject matter for this work, that puts chance procedures at its very heart. And places the work on the cutting edge of what was avant-garde in modern art back in 1915.

Man Ray made this work in his New York studios because he worked on it for two years. He began it in 1915 in a studio at Lexington and 47th. And he continued work on it the following year in a studio at 26th and Broadway. And these same years saw the arrival of European artists, poets, intellectuals in New York City. And you know, it’s this great moment when they're all in New York during World War I and inventing all sorts of new types of art that incorporated chance, that engaged with accident and the everyday in fundamentally new ways.