Two hundred objects made by or belonging to Man Ray go on sale at Christie’s Paris on March 2, for a total estimate of $3.5 million. The prize among the offerings, which range from lithographs and photographs to books and manuscripts, is the 20th-century artist’s Alphabet pour Adultes. Comprising original drawings and “rayographs”—products of a camera-less photography technique Man Ray discovered by accident in 1922—it’s an A to Z of the Surrealist avant-garde, illustrated by a leader of the pack.
The pieces hail from the collection of Lucien Treillard, who died in 2013, and his widow, Edmonde. Treillard was to Man Ray what Fred Hughes was to Warhol. Starting in 1960, when the two met through the publisher Georges Visat, Treillard was tasked with promoting the artist’s work, which he did until Man Ray’s death, in 1976. He was the last in an illustrious series of assistants, including Berenice Abbott, Jacques-André Boiffard, Bill Brandt, and Lee Miller.
Two elements shine through in the lots, on display at Christie’s Avenue Matignon space ahead of the auction: Man Ray’s seismic innovation in his chosen media, and his famous friends. Usually it’s a combination of the two. There is a metronome whose pendulum is adorned with a photo of Miller’s eye, a ready-made that recalls the creations of Man Ray’s close friend Marcel Duchamp. There are prints of André Breton, Alberto Giacometti, and Georges Braque, produced with Man Ray’s solarization technique, yet again discovered accidentally, this time when he broke the No. 1 rule of photography: Do not turn on the light in the darkroom. There are portraits of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst; postcards from Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró; and one of the first books illustrated by Man Ray, composed of poems by his first wife, Adon Lacroix, and printed by the artist himself in January of 1915. Missing from the collection are Man Ray’s negatives, which Treillard donated, following the artist’s death, to the Centre Pompidou, an hour’s walk east along the Seine. —Julia Vitale
Christie’s will auction “Man Ray & the Surrealists” live in Paris on March 2. The sale will be streamed on the company’s Web site for international buyers wishing to participate