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Man Ray–Human Equations

A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare


$12 for adults; $10 for students as well as visitors 62 and over; free for members and visitors 18 and under. 

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Mathematical Models

Explore mathematical models at our in-gallery station. Take photographs of the models and get creative with angles and lighting. See your photographs and others posted to @instamanray2015.

Mathematical models created by Jonathan Chertok (Universal Joint)

Exhibition Support

The exhibition and its international tour are supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Generous support provided by Dr. and Mrs. Ronald A. Paul and the Harris Family Foundation

Proudly sponsored by Lockheed Martin

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Additional support provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the MARPAT Foundation, Inc.

Sloan Foundation and NEA logo

Brought to you by the Exhibition Committee for Man Ray—Human Equations: Florence Fasanelli, Dr. Mark Green, Eric Richter, and Toni A. Ritzenberg

Additional in-kind support provided by

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Media Sponsor

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From Object to Painting

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky into a Russian Jewish immigrant family in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn, the young artist was reborn as Man Ray when his family changed their name. Throughout his career, the artist perpetually experimented both across and within mediums to explore the world of science and his own imagination, crafting a modern cosmopolitan image and mysterious artistic persona he diligently strove to project.

In 1934, Man Ray, already an established leader of the Dada and Surrealist movements, visited the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris to see a collection of three-dimensional mathematical models, made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to illustrate geometrical properties for the investigation and teaching of algebraic equations. He photographed the models in preparation for an issue of Cahiers d’Art devoted to the “Crisis of the Object.” In so doing, he transformed their appearance through innovative lighting and composition, highlighting forms that would be intriguing, dramatic, suggestive, and disturbing to the observer. His photographs exploited the viewer’s propensity to seek out readily recognizable human forms, emphasizing anatomical associations.

Man Ray’s photographs captivated his Surrealist colleagues and art historians and contributed to the debate regarding the importance of objects, a theme that was becoming increasingly integral to developments in Surrealism. In 1936, 12 photographs were illustrated in Cahiers d’Art and his original photographs were displayed in major Surrealist exhibitions, including the International Surrealist Exhibition in London and Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In 1937, Man Ray abandoned photography as his major artistic and commercial endeavor, renewing his interest in painting. At the start of World War II, Man Ray fled France and returned to the United States, eventually settling in Hollywood in late 1940. Having been forced to leave the majority of his work behind, he set about repainting some of his most emblematic Surrealist paintings of the late 1930s. Even without his photographs of the mathematical objects in his possession, the influence of geometry and mathematics remained prominent in Man Ray’s work.

During a brief trip to France in 1947, Man Ray retrieved much of his pre-war artistic output and shipped many works back to the United States. These included his photographs of the mathematical models that would inspire the ambitious series of paintings. Man Ray assigned the title of a celebrated Shakesperean play to each canvas and named the series of 23 painting Shakespearean Equations. Man Ray considered this series his “final realization of the mathematical equations.”