The Andy Warhol of the ’40s

Even if you’re a Man Ray expert, a new exhibit in Washington, D.C., will throw a few curves.   

If you were the portrait subject of a Man Ray photograph, you knew you had arrived. “He was the Andy Warhol of his day,” says art historian and curator Wendy Grossman. Man Ray, however, wanted to be recognized for the output of his brush more than his camera. You can see Man Ray, the painter, in the Grossman-curated “Man Ray—Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare,” an exhibit that will put mathematicians in the same room as Shakespearean scholars and art and photography lovers. It will be held at Washington, D.C.’s Phillips Collection from February 7th to May 10th, 2015.

Why the strange exhibit name?

To know Man Ray is to know how he blurs lines, Grossman says. In a nutshell, Man Ray took 3-D models of mathematical objects, photographed them in suggestive ways in France in the 1930s; then, in Hollywood in the 1940s, integrated these shapes into a series of canvases. He named each painting after one of The Bard’s plays. This exhibit spanning two decades and two countries reunites all the pieces, including the original models, the photographs, and a core group of paintings from the Shakespearean Equations series they inspired.

Sherlock Holmes moments?

There were many pieces to track down: works rarely seen, works long out of the public eye, works shoved in closets after World War II, works never reproduced in color.

MIA painting?

“Taming of the Shrew.” It was sold at auction in 1968. Grossman tracked down the buyer at a Bali spa retreat. Alas, his ex-wife got the art in the divorce. The only lead: “It’s probably in someone’s collection in Texas,” Grossman says.

Fun fact?

“He spoke French with a heavy Brooklyn accent.”