Originally conceived in 1927 – believed to be lost – examples of this iconic Surrealist object were made in 1935 and 1936, the latter presented at the seminal Surrealist exhibition of objects organised by André Breton and held at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris in 1936. Two years later, Man Ray incorporated a version of this object as a prop in the wig of the life-size mannequin that as a prominent Surrealist artist he was asked to contribute to the 1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme. The object was later published in editions in 1963 and in 1973.
Composed of an item found in everyday life, Man Ray rectified a clay pipe by attaching a blown-glass shape in the form of a bubble. The unlikely combination of such objects, possibly a fortuitous encounter, displays much of the playful humour present in Surrealist objects, particularly those by Man Ray. Here he creates the illusion of a pipe billowing smoke as portrayed by the bubble. It exemplifies the Surrealist object which frequently comprised taking an everyday object and transforming it through a change of function. Any attempt to use the pipe for its original purpose would be futile, just as drawing air through it to smoke is impossible. In one of Man Ray’s short experimental films, Autoportrait – Ce qui manque à nous tous, circa 1930 plays with the object, blowing smoke through the pipe into the glass bubble. The title (“What we all lack”) derives from a quotation by Engels “What these gentlemen lack is dialectic” that appeared on the cover of La Révolution surréaliste (no. 8, 1st December 1926), which, in typical Surrealist fashion, Man Ray subverts for he later said that “Actually I had in mind ‘imagination’, not dialectics, what we all lack is imagination.” (Schwarz, 1977, p. 209)
Man Ray’s experimentation with object-making as early as the late 1910s in New York, was crucial to the development and acceptance of the Surrealist object as a work of art. While his fellow Surrealists were also creating a wide range of objects, as a truly multimedia artist, Man Ray was adept at expressing a concept in a variety of media, from objects and painting to photography and film. Many of his early objects were lost or dismantled, yet live on his own photographs, which the three-dimensional form is immortalised by a dynamic two-dimensional image, created employing dramatic lighting and unusual angles to create intriguing compositions, what would themselves become works of art. Man Ray’s objects, later classified by him as “Objects of My Affection”, are among the most revered of all Surrealist objects.
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