Courtesy PhotoTogetherness: Lee Miller and Man Ray are pictured in this 1930 vintage postcard print; the image is attributed to Man Ray

Courtesy PhotoTogetherness: Lee Miller and Man Ray are pictured in this 1930 vintage postcard print; the image is attributed to Man Ray

Surrealist love story

“Man Ray, Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism” at the Legion of Honor offers an intimate glimpse into a celebrated artist-muse relationship.

Surrealist giant Man Ray met Lee Miller in 1929, when the 1920s “it” girl ditched her Vogue modeling career to study art with him in Paris. They lived together until 1932, when Miller broke things off to pursue her own art career in New York.

Although their time as a couple was brief, their relationship generated bountiful contributions to each artist’s oeuvre, and they remained friends into old age.

Originally organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., the exhibition, on view through October, prominently features photography, but also has paintings, sculptures, illustrations and manuscripts from Man Ray, Miller and their circle — which included Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp.

While fruitful, the relationship was often fraught. In one particularly notorious incident, Man Ray attempted to destroy “Neck,” a 1930 gelatin silver print from his “Anatomy” series.

In the image, Miller’s head is turned at a sharp angle, leaving only a shadow for an eye, and faint hints of a nose and lips, giving her neck its own elegant profile. Miller saved the negative from the trash, printed it and claimed the art as hers, making Man Ray livid. He slashed the print at the neck and saturated the raw edge with red ink. The photo on display is a print that wasn’t slashed.

Despite her fame as Man Ray’s muse, Miller was just as talented a photographer; in some ways more so, working not only in the studio as Man Ray preferred, but practicing outside in the real world.

Miller’s Paris photos are off-kilter, framed with an inventive eye that captures reality, as opposed to Man Ray’s fuzzy, fantastical distortions. Bistro chairs, rats on a windowsill, carousel horses and sparkling luxury storefronts all amused Miller, who then turned toward documentary photography.

Working as a combat photographer during World War II, she was assigned to cover napalm bombings, live battles, the London Blitz and the liberation of concentration camps.

Intense images in the show include a 1945 picture shot at Dachau of a dead SS officer floating under shimmering water and quivering grass — everything but the body ripples with life. In another, a Nazi officer who committed suicide is pictured with a defaced portrait of Hitler hovering above him.

After the war, Miller’s artistic life quieted for many years, the result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Post-breakup, Man Ray continued to work on his same surrealist trajectory, with Miller’s features, her lips and eyes, frequently his subject.

Viewed side by side, Miller’s work is more refreshing, perhaps because it isn’t as popular; Man Ray’s eyeballs, lips and nudes are on coffee cups and dormitory posters.

Although he is considered a giant of 20th-century art, Man Ray’s work, next to Miller’s in this show, is removed and static compared to Miller’s more vital documentary images.

IF YOU GO
Man Ray, Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism
Where: Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 100 30th Ave., S.F.
When: 9:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, except closed Mondays; show closes Oct. 14
Tickets: $15 general, $12 seniors, $11 youths, free for children 12 and under
Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.legionofhonor.org

Art & MuseumsartsentertainmentLegion of HonorPablo Picasso

Just Posted

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
$1.4 trillion ‘blueprint’ would address Bay Area’s housing, transit woes

Analyzing the big ticket proposals in ‘Plan Bay Area 2050’

A felled tree in San Francisco is pictured on Fillmore Street following a major storm that produced high winds and heavy rains on Oct. 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Philip Ford)
Storm updates: Sunday was wettest October day in San Francisco history

Torrential rainfall causes flooding, triggers evacuations in burn areas

On Sunday, California bore the brunt of what meteorologists referred to as a bomb cyclone and an atmospheric river, a convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, concerns about flash floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada. Much of the Bay Area was under a flash flood watch on Sunday, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for mudslides across the region. (NOAA via The New York Times)
Bomb cyclone, atmospheric river combine to pummel California with rain and wind

What you need to know about this historic weather event

While Kaiser Permanente patients seeking mental health care will get a 30-minute phone assessment within days, in many cases, they cannot get actual treatment for months. (Shutterstock)
City employees face months-long wait time for mental health care

‘We are in the midst of a mental health crisis’

Klay Thompson, left, and his boat dealer Kenyon Martin take on his test drive on the NBA star’s 37-foot vessel; injury woes sent Thompson, the Golden State guard, looking for solace. He found it on the water. (Courtesy Anthony Nuccio via New York Times)
Warriors star finds love with his fishing boat

Being on the water is a ‘safe space’ for Klay Thompson

Most Read