The American artist Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) spent more than 50 years in Paris. He first arrived in the art capital of those days in 1921 and left in 1940 during the turbulent times of the Second World War. As the Nazis approached the city, civilians were given only 24 hours to evacuate. The artist did not return to Paris until 1951 to live with his wife, dancer and model, Juliet Browner, in a former garage at 2 bis Férou Street between St Sulpice square and the Luxembourg Garden.
The empty garage with its non-functioning radiators and penetrating draughts became a space for improvisation. Although Man Ray, as he said of himself, 'made useful objects useless' for art, he proved to be a magician at solving trivial domestic problems. He built the photographic darkroom, kitchen and bedroom himself, filling them with furniture and objects compiled from various pieces. In the bedroom, he installed a fabric-covered folding table next to the bed, where he could read, eat, smoke and telephone without fear of the cold of the studio. There, above the bed, hung a reproduction of his painting “Lovers” (1932-1934), depicting lips seducing with intense red, while somnambulously levitating in the sky above the Paris Observatory. A large sheet of fabric floated above the studio like a giant kite, diffusing the light and protecting from the leaking roof. As time passed, the space was densely filled with photographs, paintings and strange objects, and their constant shifting kept the place in ceseless motion.
The vibrant life of an artists studio ends with the passing away of the artist. All the collected things, be they trivial objects needed on a daily basis or the artist's attributes (dried-up paintbrushes, broached cans of paint or photographic materials) now become useless. Stripped of their original functions and meanings, they testify the absence of the person. If inhabiting a space is about taming it, filling it with a constellation of forms among which one can make oneself at home, death takes away the aura of familiarity from things and shapes. They become uncanny remnants of a life that ended and a work that was never completed.
Man Ray died in 1976. Margery Clay, an American photographer living in Paris, took a series of photographs in 1990 documenting the abandoned studio just before it was destroyed. After Juliet Browner's death in 1991, the heirs sold most of the works filling the studio and transported the remains to New York. In 1992, a Swiss painter Roswitha Doerig moved into the ruined building.
Excerpt from an essay by Ewa Skolimowska, Warsaw 2022