In Focus

The DAM takes a fresh look at photography.

Fudge left the museum two years ago under unhappy circumstances. At the time of her too-hasty departure, she'd already lost control of the Wolf collection gallery; in fact, her avid interest in it had been a sore point with Vanderlip. Now that Fudge was gone, the Merage Gallery was moved upstairs and replaced the gallery that had featured the Wolf photos.

It is in this relocated Merage Gallery that Pultz makes his DAM debut with Metamorphosis: Modernist Photographs by Herbert Bayer and Man Ray. (A group of Timothy O'Sullivan photos from the Wolf collection are displayed in the West Point/Points West show, also on the seventh floor; Pultz made these selections, too.) Until the completion of the museum's new wing in 2005, Pultz plans to fill the Merage with shows that will, in his words, "exploit the riches of the collection."

Metamorphosis came together naturally as Pultz, currently on sabbatical from KU, began surveying the museum's uneven photography collection last year with able curatorial assistant Blake Milteer. "I was going through boxes with Blake -- I'm only partway through -- and in the process, I had seen the Man Ray portfolio, and thought, 'Well, these are fabulous photographs that haven't been out for a while.' Then, when it was time to come up with a topic of a small show to put in this space, I remembered those Man Rays, and I knew there was the great Bayer collection here and thought it would make an interesting show."

Man Ray, "Le Monde," photogravure.
Man Ray, "Le Monde," photogravure.
Herbert Bayer, "profile en face," photomontage.
Herbert Bayer, "profile en face," photomontage.

Details

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Pultz paired Man Ray and Herbert Bayer for several reasons. "Both artists were basically working at the same moment in time, and both artists were modernists interested in photography," he explains. "By the late '20s, early '30s, when these photos were done, there's a mixed heritage of dada and surrealism. The Bayers have a genuine surrealism to them -- the torsos, the body parts -- and that's seen in some of the Man Rays, too. But Man Ray's work is on the cusp of dada and surrealism, and his rayographs in which objects are placed on photosensitive paper, are related to Marcel Duchamp's found objects."

Although the two artists are compatible aesthetically and historically, Pultz gives each his own part of the intimate Merage Gallery. The first third is devoted to Man Ray, a Philadelphia artist who lived in Paris and was in the vanguard of its art scene at the beginning of the last century.

On display are all ten images from a portfolio called "Èlectricité," which was commissioned in 1931 by a Paris utility company, La Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d'Èlectricité, with an edition of 500 done as premiums for the company's important clients. Although some of the images in "Èlectricité" feature Man Ray's famous rayograph technique, all of them are actually hand-pulled photogravures. Pultz contends that the pieces in this series mark a transition between the earlier dada and the newer surrealism: Some are pure dada while others are surrealistic, and still others are hybrids of the two.

"Le Monde," for instance, is classic dada. Using a combination of rayography and photomontage, Man Ray places the "live" rayographic image of a switch on a cord below a photographic image of the moon. The absurd idea that the moon can be switched on reflects the dada interest in the ridiculous and in sight gags. Clearly surrealist is "Salle de Bain," which features a headless nude torso. The model was Man Ray's student, American artist Lee Miller. Miller was also the model for the very similar "Èlectricité," a combination of dada and surrealism. The double nude torso is signature surrealist, but the rayograph of electric wires in wavy and diagonal lines is pure dada, because the objects -- the wires -- have made their own images, and their casual arrangement reflects dada's embrace of the accidental. It looks as though Man Ray simply threw the wires down on the paper in order to create this element.

The Bayers relate beautifully to the Man Rays, even though the two artists'works hang next to each other in just one spot. Pultz sensitively uses Bayer's "legs in sand," a 1928 gelatin silver print of a pair of female legs, as the transitional piece to Man Ray's conceptually similar "Èlectricité."

The Bayer photographs fall into three distinct types, Pultz says. There's straightforward photography, such as "legs in sand," in which the surrealist content is created simply by shadows and by cropping. In another single-shot image, the 1929 "glass eyes," also a gelatin silver print, the surrealism lies in Bayer's choice of a creepy subject, in this instance a glass-eye salesman's sample case.

The second kind of work is what Bayer called "fotoplastik." With this method, he typically assembled a still-life composition using found and ready-made objects, and then took a conventional photo of it. The 1936 "wall with shingles," for example, features an enigmatic assortment of objects -- rope tied in knots, carved pieces of wood, a metal wheel -- arrayed on a shingled wall. Sometimes Bayer would alter the resulting photo and shoot it again. In "metamorphosis," also from 1936, a landscape photo has been altered so that the foreground is a field of geometric shapes while the background is made up of the expected trees and sky.

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