Man Ray, Cadeau (Gift), 1921, editioned replica 1972, iron and nails. Presented at the Tate, London; © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
Man Ray, born Emmanuel Radnitzky, was one of the great contributors to the Dada and Surrealist movements. Among his more enigmatic works is Cadeau, or Gift, a sculpture made from an iron and nails. Here’s how the Tate describes the work:
By adding a row of nails, Man Ray transformed a household flat-iron into a new and potentially threatening object. The nails and burning metal suggest a violent eroticism at odds with the work’s title, the French word for ‘gift’. The original version, given to the composer Eric Satie, was lost but became well-known through Man Ray’s photograph of it. Although made at the height of Paris Dada Cadeau, like Man Ray’s other objects, anticipated the exposure of hidden desires found in subsequent Surrealist objects.
Seeing works like this in person is always a visceral experience, just knowing that the object indeed exists beyond the pages of a book or slides from a lecture I’m giving. I love the anecdote that Man Ray used one version of the sculpture to iron a dress, effectively shredding it and later asking a model to wear it.
Many Ray was also a great photographer and painter, and several of his creations could be considered WTF Art History. Check back again for more on this strangely inventive artist.