Art Review: Man Ray @ National Portrait Gallery

Man Ray was a modernist artist who plied his trade using varying media including paintings and sculpture, but this exhibition solely focusses on his photography with over 150 examples on display. The roll call of who he photographed consists of the cultural world’s ‘who’s who’, from famous actresses like Ava Gardner and Catherine Deneuve to renowned artists including Duchamp and Picasso.

Despite the many famous names, the standard portraits are the least interesting works on display. The one exception being a haunting shot of Berenice Abbott where her pale eyes and skin starkly contrast with the jet black of her clothes and silhouette.

The true stand-outs of this exhibition are when the artist experimented with different techniques. A photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse with two f-notes added on to her back have a ‘photoshop’ feel to them and is an early example of social commentary through photographic manipulation long before it became de rigeur.

Arguably Man Ray’s most famous muse was Lee Miller and there are plenty of photographs of her, including the famous image where purposeful over-exposure to light gives her profile a heavenly glow.

This exhibition shows us that Man Ray applied just as much improvisation and ingenuity to his photographs as he did to the rest of his art. Rather than just being a gallery of celebrity spots, there are plenty of examples of different styles and techniques which make for some captivating images.

Man Ray Portraits is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until 27 May. Tickets are £12.70, concessions available.

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