In 1921, Man Ray’s Time Machine Was Set to 1970

THE DAILY PIC: In MoMA's Dadaglobe show, a photo marries conceptualism and heavy-metal sculpture.

THE DAILY PIC (#1587): Here’s the last of my Pics from the brilliant “Dadaglobe Reconstructed” show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York: It’s a fascinating photograph that Man Ray submitted in 1921 to the never-published Dadaglobe anthology, under the title The Most Beautiful Sculpture in America. I think the piece perfectly marries the work of Marcel Duchamp in the ‘teens and of Marc di Suvero in the ‘60s and ’70s.

Man Ray’s Dadaglobe offering is just a photo of some random hunk of construction detritus, and as such acts as a kind of apotheosis or test-case of the Duchampian readymade: Compared to Duchamp’s urinal, which actually had some pre-existing interest as a deluxe industrial object, Man Ray’s quality-free “sculpture” truly tests, and boldly asserts, the contention that absolutely anything at all can be art if an artist proclaims it to be so. (I’m hoping that some reader can tell me what building – in Philadelphia? – is poking in at the right side of the photo. It would be great if it turned out to be an art museum.)

On the other hand, I think Man Ray is also willing, more than Duchamp ever was, to try on the di Suveresque notion that a hunk of wood stuck in concrete might really and truly be the most beautiful sculpture in America, if only you found the right way of thinking about it and it was the right hunk of wood. Once Duchamp had asserted the unsurpassable beauty of an airplane propeller, it was just a short step – or flight – to finding delight in all kinds of much more unlikely objects.

As I’ve argued before, it’s important to realize that most abstraction – or maybe all art – is stuck between Dada gesture and connoisseur’s eye. (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, copyright Man Ray Trust/2016, ProLitteris, Zurich)

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