How Man Ray Drew on Math, Shakespeare — and Shoah

Man Ray

Credit: UT Austin

From 1934 to 1935, at Paris’s Institut Henri Poincaré, surrealist artist Man Ray photographed dusty mathematical models, which he said he found baffling. But the Philadelphia native, born Emmanuel Radnitzky, had to abandon the photos when he fled the Nazis for Hollywood. In 1946, he returned to Paris and retrieved the photos; two years later, he painted a series of 23 works, each of which drew its title from a Shakespeare play. The two components of the series “Shakespearean Equations,” then, serve as bookends to the Holocaust.

The mathematical context of Man Ray’s work had not received scholarly attention until the new exhibit “Man Ray — Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare” (through May 10) at Washington D.C.’s Phillips Collection, according to exhibit curator Wendy Grossman, a photo historian who calls herself a “late convert” to the paintings.

You can read more of my article “How Man Ray Drew on Math, Shakespeare — and Shoah” in the Jewish Daily Forward.

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