Just opened at Antwerp’s MoMu is an exhibition bound to draw in lovers of photography and fashion. Man Ray and Fashion (22 April – 13 August 2023) invites visitors to fall through the looking-glass into the symbiotic relationship between one of the 20th century’s most avant-garde visual artists and the world of haute-couture.
Man Ray rose to fame from a relatively humble background as the son of Russian Jewish New York immigrants. His father was a tailor and his mother designed and made clothes for the family. To his loved ones’ initial disappointment he left this past behind, changing his name and following up his early promise as an artist and mechanic by becoming a professional painter, then an experimental visual artist and photographer in Europe, and eventually a world-renowned leading figure in Dada and Surrealism.
His iconic 1932 photograph of a can-can dancer’s averted eye sprinkled with tears today seems uncannily modern and prescient. It was created with glass tears – a voyeuristic gaze on manufactured emotion. But as well as mechanics and new materials, the textiles and form he experienced at a young age were clearly in Man Ray’s DNA and wove their way into his work throughout his life.
Co-organised by MoMu and the Réunion des MuséesNationaux – Grand Palais, in partnership with the City of Marseille Museums, a clever curation has been pieced together here by MoMu’s Romy Cockx, setting Man Ray’s photography alongside interwar fashion silhouettes from big name haute couture houses, as well as creations from postwar and contemporary designers, showing a golden thread from Man Ray’s work all the way to now.
Including photographs he took for fashion magazines like Vogue and his work for designers such as Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, the exhibition demonstrates how Man Ray’s wit, as well as his innovative, surreal and technical approach to his subjects, helped stitch together the worlds of art and fashion – and how his influence is still felt today.
Compare, for example, a Man Ray image of an Elsa Schiaparelli Hellenic cotton evening dress whose form-fitting drapes were considered risqué in 1932, with a Maison Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer creation, dreamed up over half a century later in 1990.
Here in Belgium, and especially the design centre that is Antwerp, the exhibition leads all the way to the Antwerp 6 and Dries Van Noten. After incarnations in Marseille and Paris, MoMu has reworked the exhibition concept, better linking it with contemporary and Belgian fashion which has a special love of Man Ray’s specialty – the surreal.
You can visit all current MoMu exhibitions with one all-in ticket. Other current shows include the geometric genius of Io Van Oostveldt (until July) and fashion from MoMu’s permanent collection. Tickets are 12 euros for an adult entry and you’ll need to book a date and time to visit. Man Ray and Fashion is likely to be a popular exhibition, so be sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
And while we’re on the subject of Belgium’s cutting edge design scene, fashionistas will not want to miss this year’s SHOW and EXPO from the fashion programme at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp – celebrating its 360th birthday in 2023 and launching a new wave of design talent under the eye of Creative Director Brandon Wen.