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Solarized Cinema

Experimental films by 'Man Ray & Friends' screen at VMFA.

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Fire up the fur-covered popcorn: It's a surrealist movie party!

"Self-Portrait with Camera," 1930, Man Ray (American, 1890–1976), solarized gelatin silver print. The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift, 2004-16 © Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021.
  • "Self-Portrait with Camera," 1930, Man Ray (American, 1890–1976), solarized gelatin silver print. The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift, 2004-16 © Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021.

A cinematic offshoot of its "Man Ray: The Paris Years" exhibit, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Man Ray & Friends Film Night will feature surrealist short films by the legendary photographer, as well as works from two of his illustrious pals, Marcel Duchamp and Jean Cocteau.

"He actually called himself, ‘Man Ray, the Maker of Bad Movies,’ and there's a great sense of fun to his films," says VMFA Chief Curator Michael Taylor, who will give an introduction to the Feb. 11 screenings. "We know that you can see these movies on YouTube but you really need to experience them in a theatre."

Born in Philadelphia and raised in the Bronx, Emmanuel Radnitzky -- Man Ray -- was an active figure in the French avant-garde of the ‘20s and ‘30s. His work as a filmmaker is overshadowed by his prolific and lucrative output as a still photographer, but his abstract movies, primitive and off-the-cuff, could be just as creative and inspiring, says Madeleine Dugan, VMFA's Exhibition Research Assistant. "You learn by watching them that you don't have to take yourself so seriously. You can just have fun and something beautiful can come out of it."

The program will feature three silent shorts that the photographer made in Paris --- "Retour à la raison" (1923, L’Etoile de mer (1928) and "Les Mystères du Château de Dé" (1929) -- as well as Dada pioneer Marcel Duchamp's five-minute “Anémic cinema” (1926) and Jean Cocteau's dream-like “Le Sang d’un Poète” (1932). There are connections between the films. Man Ray was an assistant on “Anémic cinema,” a short that includes Duchamp's proto-psychedelic "Rotoreliefs." These hypnotic, swirling designs are also featured in Cocteau's movie, which has a prominent acting turn from Lee Miller, Man Ray's assistant and muse.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts made one of its most memorable recent acquisitions when it purchased fifty portrait works by Man Ray, making it one of the largest holders of the artist's work in the United States. "Man Ray: The Paris Years" showcases the VMFA's new collection along with numerous loan outs from other institutions and collectors (including Sir Elton John). It will conclude its run at the museum on Feb. 21.

The Man Ray & Friends Film Night compliments the main exhibit, Taylor says, because it shows another side to the famed lensman - the experimenter who dove into pure non-linear imagery. "Man Ray was first a member of the Dada group, and then surrealism, and the show really captures both of those arcs. Dada and surrealism embrace chance, accidents, and he never believed that it was his job to tell a story. If you're looking for a beginning, middle and end in his films, well, the beginning might be at the end."

"Man Ray & Friends Film Night: Significant Logic Goes Without Saying" is held Friday, Feb 11 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Leslie Cheek Theater in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. $8 ($5 members) www.vmfa.museum

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