Monday, December 6, 2010

Man Ray's Indestructible

Objet indestructible  
1923, remade 1933, editioned replica 1965
Man Ray's celebrated combination of a metronome with a photograph of an eye affixed with a paperclip to the swinging arm was first created in 1922-3 and titled Object to be Destroyed (Objet à détruire). As Man Ray later explained: 'I had a metronome in my place which I set going when I painted - like the pianist sets it going when he starts playing - its ticking noise regulated the frequency and number of my brushstrokes. The faster it went, the faster I painted; and if the metronome stopped then I knew I had painted too long, I was repeating myself, my painting was no good and I would destroy it. A painter needs an audience, so I also clipped a photo of an eye to the metronome's swinging arm to create the illusion of being watched as I painted. One day I did not accept the metronome's verdict, the silence was unbearable and since I had called it, with a certain premonition, Object of Destruction, I smashed it to pieces.' (Schwarz, p.206.)  

In 1933, responding to a series of exhibition requests, Man Ray remade the object. In 1932 he had been left by his lover of three years, the model and photographer Lee Miller, and it was her eye which appeared in this new version. Man Ray had published a drawing of the new version in a magazine called This Quarter. The instructions attached to the drawing revealed the extent of his hurt. He wrote: 'Legend, Cut out the eye from a photograph of one who has been loved but is seen no more. Attach the eye to the pendulum of a metronome and regulate the weight to suit the tempo desired. Keep doing to the limit of endurance. With a hammer well-aimed, try to destroy the whole at a single blow.' (This Quarter, vol.I, September 1932, p.55.)
Indestructible Object (or Object to Be Destroyed), 1964 (replica of 1923 original)
The Museum of Modern Art
When Man Ray left Paris as a result of the German invasion of 1940, the 1933 Object to be Destroyed Lost Object, but the title was accidentally printed as Last Object. In the catalogue Man Ray wrote: 'Last Object or Object of destruction. It is still my earnest desire, some day while the eye is ticking away during a conversation, to lift my hammer and with one well-aimed blow completely demolish the metronome' (Schwarz, p.206). The work did subsequently get damaged, although not quite as Man Ray had anticipated. In March 1957, it was included in a Dada exhibition at the Galerie de l'Institut in Paris, against which a group of young students, probably from the Académie des Beaux Arts, organised a demonstation. Man Ray was in the gallery at the time the students entered, and he later recalled the events in his autobiography (see Man Ray, pp.306-307). 

In 1958 Man Ray decided to remake the object yet again, this time giving it the warier title Indestructible Object. In 1965 he collaborated with the French artist Daniel Spoerri to make an edition Indestructible Objects. The Tate's version is number sixteen in this edition. In 1970 Man Ray authorised a further edition of forty sculptures to be made in which the photograph of Miller's eye was replaced with a double printed image of a blinking eye that opens and closes as the metronome's arm swings back and forth. As he explained: 'It finally annoys me always to repeat the same thing, so I introduced a small variation, I changed the eye of the metronome. Well, since I have repeated it now for the third time, I will call it Perpetual Motif. After all, the movement of the metronome is a perpetual motif.' (Schwarz, p.206.) A further edition of one hundred metronomes was issued by Mario Amaya on the occasion of an exhibition at the New York Cultural Center in 1974. These were known as Do Not Destroy. Two posthumous examples of the object are known to have been produced in Germany and Spain in 1982.

Sophie Howarth, April 2000  
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

Further Reading:
Perpetual Motif: The Art of Man Ray, exhibition catalogue, National Museum of American Art, Washington, New York 1988, pp.47, 226, 252, reproduced p.252
Man Ray, Self-Portrait, London, 1988, pp.97, 305-6
Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination, London 1977, pp.205-6, reproduced p.218 

Indestructible Object, 1965
Smithsonian American Art Museum

“Other contraptions of mine have been destroyed by visitors; not always through ignorance nor by accident, but willfully, as a protest. But I have managed to make them indestructible, that is, by making duplicates very easily.” Man Ray, Self Portrait, 1963

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