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How Dada movement influencer Man Ray ran from the Nazis — and his Jewish roots

19 11 27

NEW YORK — In 1940, Man Ray stepped off a boat in Hoboken, New Jersey, safe at last from the Nazi invasion and occupation of France. Aside from his sister Elsie Siegler and her daughter Naomi, there was no one to greet him — no flashbulbs popping, no reporters shouting questions about his escape or what he planned to do next.

It was a quiet welcome befitting the Jewish artist who spent a lifetime distancing himself from his past, his parents and his religion. Until his dying day, Ray, who was a significant contributor to the Dada, Surrealist and avant-garde movements, insisted on keeping the man he was apart from the art he created.

“Man Ray was not a self-reflective sort and viewed his life as something to craft and mold as if it were a work of art. To be an artist, he had to ‘go away.’ He was naturally inclined toward not divulging his past,” said author and journalist Arthur Lubow in a telephone interview with The Times of Israel.

Released last week, Lubow’s newest book, “Man Ray: The Artist and His Shadows,” is part of the Yale University Press “Jewish Lives” series. Lubow will discuss the book in a livestream event hosted by the Center for Jewish History on September 23.

The biography uses Ray’s Jewish roots as one lens through which to view the artist and his work. Yet, as prolific as Ray was, his elusiveness posed a challenge for Lubow.

“He constructed his entire persona, believing the biography of an artist should be separate from the art. That made it difficult to write,” said Lubow, who was on assignment for The New York Times in Memphis, Tennessee.

Lubow decided to structure his book around those who knew Ray best, including photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, French poet Paul Éluard, Ray’s lovers Kiki de Montparnasse and Meret Oppenheim, as well as his first wife, Adon Lacroix, and his third wife, Juliet Browner.

“He didn’t leave a lot of letters and diaries, and so I filled him out by researching the many people he knew well who had vital personalities and were less opaque,” Lubow said.

The eldest of four children, Emmanuel Radnitzky was born in South Philadelphia in 1890 to Jewish immigrants. His mother came from Minsk, his father from Kiev. When Emmanuel was seven, the family moved to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where both of his parents........

© The Times of Israel

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