One of the art world’s most notorious relationships comes alive with “Man Ray/Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism” on view through Oct. 14 in the Rosekrans Galleries at the Legion of Honor.
The exhibition consists of approximately 115 photographs, paintings, drawings and manuscripts that explore the creative interaction between Man Ray and Lee Miller, two giants of European Surrealism.
Organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass., this is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on the pair’s artistic relationship.
The works in the exhibition are drawn primarily from the Lee Miller Archives and Penrose Collection in Sussex, England, augmented for the San Francisco presentation by loans from important public and private collections in the United States.
Included are selected works by artists in Ray and Miller’s circle in Paris, including paintings by Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Roland Penrose and Dora Maar and a small sculpture by Alexander Calder.
Man Ray and Lee Miller lived together in Paris from 1929 through 1932, first as teacher and student, and later as lovers.
Their mercurial relationship resulted in some of the most powerful works of each artist’s career, and helped shape the course of modern art.
The two artists inspired each other equally, collaborating on several projects.
Though they lived together for only three years, “Man Ray/Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism” examines the lingering effect each had on the other’s art.
Connecting photography with other media, and combining rare vintage photographs, paintings, sculpture and drawings, the exhibition reveals how the Surrealists combined imagery in playful and unexpected ways, creating extraordinary feats of imagination.
It also offers a window into the maelstrom of artistic and social experimentation that animated Paris in the 1930s and gave inspiration to writers, poets, filmmakers, musicians and visual artists of all stripes.
Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky, 1890–1976) was a leader in two pioneering modern art movements, Surrealism and Dada, but was never deeply invested in either of the two.
Although accomplished as an avant-garde photographer, he eschewed labels and thought of himself primarily as a painter and as an artist wedded to no single medium.
Man Ray’s camerawork marked a turning point in the integration of photography among other visual art forms. When he and Lee Miller parted, Ray often lovingly and cleverly referred to her via coded motifs in his artworks years afterward.
Lee Miller (1907–1977) started her career as a fashion model in New York.
With the encouragement of American artist and curator Edward Steichen, for whom she was a favorite subject, she moved behind the camera and moved to Paris in 1929 to seek out Man Ray as a teacher.
Working in tandem and separately, Ray preferred to work in the studio while Miller mostly took to the streets.
After she and Ray parted, she remained a photographer for two decades, including a seminal period as World War II war correspondent for Condé Nast. A first-hand witness to some of the worst atrocities of her time, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder that later hampered her productivity.
This is the first exhibition that presents Man Ray and Lee Miller together on equal terms.
Miller is regarded here as an artist and potent Surrealist force in her own right rather than as a foil for Ray’s work.
Historically, Miller has been described as Ray’s muse, but their love affair was in fact a key source of mutual and sustained inspiration, which pushed the art of their time in a new direction.
Miller’s photographs as well as the work of many of the other Surrealist artists in this exhibition appear courtesy of the Lee Miller Archives and Penrose Collection housed at Farley Farm House in Chiddingly, Sussex, England.
The official exhibition catalogue, “Man Ray/Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism,” authored by Phillip Prodger, Ph.D., curator of photography, Peabody Essex Museum brings together rarely seen photographs, paintings, sculpture and drawings by Ray and Miller. It includes unique works from renowned artists in their circle including Picasso, Roland Penrose, Dora Maar and Alexander Calder.
In addition, a candid essay written by Antony Penrose, the son of Miller and the English painter Roland Penrose, is featured.
The Legion of Honor is located at Lincoln Park, 34th Ave. and Clement Street, San Francisco. Museum hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 9:30 a.m to 5:15 p.m.; closed on Monday.
Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors, and $6 youths 13–17 and students with college I.D. Members and children 12 and under are free. General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month.