Fine Art

Man Ray And Lee Miller At The Peabody Essex Museum

By Jared Bowen   |   Tuesday, October 25, 2011
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Oct. 25, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 24 on WGBH's Greater Boston.


PEABODY, Mass. — On view at the Peabody Essex Museum right now are scenes from an affair both torrid and tempestuous. When artist Man Ray met model Lee Miller, they fell madly in love and produced some of the twentieth century's most celebrated works.

Lee Miller was a 1920s supermodel when she met Man Ray.

"She appeared on the cover of Vogue, she became Edward Steichen's favorite model. And then a curious thing happened. Her image was licensed to the Kotex company for feminine hygiene products. And as a result, all of her modeling work dried up and she had to find other things to do," said Phillip Prodger, curator at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Man Ray was a surrealist artist — a legend already in the making and 17 years her senior. Looking to be an artist in her own right, Miller tracked Man Ray down in Paris — finding him at a bar near his studio.

Prodger describes the moment Man Ray and Miller met. "Man Ray says there are two problems. 'The first problem is I don't take assistants. And the second problem is I'm going on vacation and I won't be back for two weeks.' She says, 'I'm going with you.'"

And she did. It was 1929 and as documented in "Man Ray | Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism" now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum, the two spent the next three years together. She was his apprentice then a peer and always his lover. They pushed each other personally and professionally, establishing singular styles.

"Man Ray was primarily interested in photographing in the studio and he was a very theatrical artist in a way," Prodger said. "He liked to set things up... you see Man Ray making surrealist compositions in the studio, you see Lee Miller going out on the street and photographing things that she sees. And in fact she was one of the first photographers to do that."

In this exhibit, you will find their disparate take on nudes as well. He finds a softness and rapture in her.

Prodger described Man Ray's rendering of Miller: "It's very warm, very inviting, she looks sensual, beautiful and erotic."

Prodger said that Miller found nothing erotic in herself. "She looks strong, you can see muscle definition, her back is held upright, she really looks like a feminist hero."

Aside from perspective, their personalities collided too. Theirs was an aggressive relationship fraught with jealousy and conflict. Like the time Miller fished one of Ray's photographs out of the trash and claimed it as her own. Man Ray exploded.

"He took that photograph that she had printed which showed her neck, took a razor blade and sliced the photograph across the neck and then took scarlet paint and painted where the so-called wound would be in that photograph and it was dripping down as if he had slit her throat," Prodger said.

Among the most famous of Man Ray's manifestations of rage — his metronome.

"He attached her eye to the pendulum of a metronome and gave instructions that it should be set in motion going back and forth, back and forth, until the viewer couldn't stand it any more and then smashed with a hammer," Prodger said.

And when she left him, Man Ray got over her in part by creating his painting of levitating lips. They are Miller's and he tended to it every day for two years. Lovers for just a spell, Man Ray and Lee Miller remained intertwined for their lifetimes. Their work though, evokes for eternity.

"Man Ray | Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism" is at the PEM through December 4, 2011

Music and Art: Paternosto & Ginastera

By Cathy Fuller   |   Friday, January 28, 2011
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I’ve been pairing visual artists and composers, spotlighting a piece of art from the new Art of the America’s Wing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and partnering it with a piece of music that was written at just about the same time.

The wing’s third floor gallery features a big, bold work by Argentine painter César Paternosto. It’s stunning. You can move around the gallery and never quite escape its vibrant color throbbing away, busily ignoring the squareness of its own frame. Staccato has never before been shown at the MFA.




The museum gives information on the inspiration behind Staccato, letting us know that the painting draws on the bold geometry of Andean textiles and the art of Josef Albers, whose colorful abstractions Paternosto saw in Buenos Aires in 1964.

Paternosto was a modernist interested in human perception and the illusory effects of color. Buy 1965, he remembers, he “started painting 'bands', exploring the ‘atonality’ of color: strange chords, such as a brown next to a pink, and the like. Soon the bands became waving and concentrically arranged.”

Paternosto had a deep appreciation for music, and he was inspired by the unexpected harmonies and the emancipation of dissonance that he heard in 12-tone music. I can see a kind of structured musicality in Staccato. An organized restlessness.

While Paternosto was creating Staccato in 1965, another artist from Argentina was methodically and meticulously building up a body of work. His is a modernism unlike anyone else’s – boldly contemporary and audibly aware of the Argentinean folk tradition. Alberto Ginastera said, “To compose is to be an architect … In musical terms, architecture spreads out over time. When the time has passed by and the architecture been deployed, one senses an inner perfection in the mind. Only at that moment may one say the composer has succeeded.”

Ginastera wrote using many techniques, including the serial, 12-tone technique that Paternosto was inspired by (especially in Webern’s music). Ginastera found his own personal language, after absorbing the aesthetics of many others, including Ravel, Bartók and Schoenberg.

It was in 1965, the year of Paternosto’s Staccato, that Ginastera’s Harp Concerto was premiered. I think there is an interesting connection between Paternosto’s modernism with its surprising visual harmonies, and Ginastera’s bright, chromatic language, emancipating the special, raw qualities of the harp.

Below is a clip from Ginastera’s Concerto for Harp. If this piece or the painting strike a strange chord with you, post a comment! We’d love to hear from you.

Ginastera: Harp Concerto, Op. 25, I. Allegro Giusto (excerpt)


(Image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts)
 

Music and Art: Stella and Diamond

By Cathy Fuller   |   Wednesday, January 19, 2011
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I’ve been exploring the new Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts. In trying to find music that was created in the same year as one of the pieces of art, I’ve discovered that even when artists work using vastly different approaches, we’re still somehow compelled to find connections.

Here’s a pair from 1940-1941:

Joseph Stella came to New York City as a 19-year-old Italian immigrant and fell so in love with the place that he began calling the city “his wife.” This description of the city’s power comes from his autobiographical notes:

"Steel and electricity had created this new world. A new drama had surged from the unmerciful violations of darkness at night, by the violent blaze of electricity… The steel had leaped to hyperbolic altitudes and expanded to vast latitudes with the skyscrapers and with bridges made for the conjunction of worlds."

Stella adored the Brooklyn Bridge and made several paintings of it, combining realism, abstraction, and surrealism to capture its force. He painted his Old Brooklyn Bridge from 1940 to 1941, and now it hangs in the Art of the Americas wing at the MFA. For me it’s a bold, prismatic homage to the bewildering beauty of the city’s geometry. A dizzying display of craftsmanship – like a view from a set of eyes that can’t stop moving.




On December 21st, 1941, while the Brooklyn Bridge shivered in the cold, Carnegie Hall was ablaze with bright, propulsive sound. New York composer David Diamond’s Symphony No. 1 was getting its premier with the New York Philharmonic. Diamond had studied in Paris with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger and then headed off to an art colony near Saratoga to write his first symphony.

As you hear it, I feel sure that you’ll hear elements of Joseph Stella’s city image right away. As in Stella’s painting, there is a kind of beautiful, throbbing geometry in it. The symphony has a uniquely American sound – reflecting, you could imagine, an awe-struck affection for the great structures of a growing city.

Diamond: Symphony No. 1, I. Allegro Moderato con Energica (excerpt)


The steel had leaped to hyperbolic altitudes. Diamond seems to have turned that image into music.

I hope you can take a little time with each of these American voices – and let me know what you think!

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About the Authors
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 

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