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Chance Creations: Collage, Photomontage, and Assemblage

Explore three Dada methods that left it (mostly) to chance.


The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky)
(American, 1890–1976)

1916. Oil on canvas, 52" x 6' 1 3/8" (132.1 x 186.4 cm)

Though executed entirely in oil paint, The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows grew out of Man Ray’s numerous collage experiments. The work’s original composition was inspired by the view of a tightrope dancer in a vaudeville performance. Back in his studio, Man Ray cut colored paper into shapes resembling his memory of the dancer’s acrobatic movements but, dissatisfied with what he had done, he discarded the scraps on the floor. Glancing down, he noticed that by chance they had formed an abstract pattern. Comparing the accidental pattern with shadows that a dancer might have cast, he incorporated it into his composition.

The dancer is outlined in grey and white at the top of the canvas, her legs and fluttering skirt shown in various positions simultaneously. Similarly, Man Ray depicts the tightrope six ways; each line swinging out from her feet atop the large planes of color, which represent the “shadows” cast by her figure.

A type of theatrical variety show, developed in the early 1880s in America, that remained the most popular form of entertainment until radio and film supplanted it in the late 1920s. It incorporated an array of short performances like singing, ventriloquism, plate-spinning, contortionists, dancing, performing animals, and, at its heart, comedy. Reflecting both the cultural diversity of early-20th-century America and its prejudices, vaudeville fused such traditions as the English Music Hall, minstrel shows of antebellum America, and Yiddish theater. Many of the big names in vaudeville became movie and television stars, including Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and George Burns and Gracie Allen.

A paint in which pigment is suspended in oil, which dries on exposure to air.

A flat or level surface.

A representation of a human or animal form in a work of art.

A closely woven, sturdy cloth of hemp, cotton, linen, or a similar fiber, frequently stretched over a frame and used as a surface for painting.

The form or condition in which an object exists or appears.

A series of events, objects, or compositional elements that repeat in a predictable manner.

A long mark or stroke.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

Derived from the French verb coller, meaning “to glue,” collage refers to both the technique and the resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued or otherwise affixed to a supporting surface.

A term generally used to describe art that is not representational or based on external reality or nature.