Overall: 17 × 9 5/16 × 9 5/16in. (43.2 × 23.7 × 23.7 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Modern Painting and Sculpture Committee
Rights and reproductions
© Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris
Originally assembled in 1917 from wood strips and a carpenter’s vice found lying around his studio, Man Ray’s New York 17 evokes the dynamism of the modern city and the building boom then underway in New York, where the artist lived until 1921. Though simply constructed, the sculpture evinces the characteristic stepped-back profile of the era’s skyscrapers. Inspired by the ideas of artist Marcel Duchamp, this work was one of Man Ray’s first Dadaist constructions. This 1966 version duplicates the form of the 1917 sculpture (which was destroyed) using chromed bronze bars in place of the original lengths of wood. Despite its sleek finish, New York 17 reiterates the subversive tone of its crudely constructed prototype. The slapdash assembly of the metal bars clamped together mocks the premium traditionally placed on the sculptor’s talent and skillful craftsmanship, while Man Ray’s willingness to recreate the work in another medium challenges the idea of the art object as a unique creation.
Man Ray, New York, 1917
Man Ray, New York, 1917
Narrator: Man Ray called this sculpture New York, 1917, because he made the first version of the work in that year. It was a time of rapid change in the city. And like many early twentieth-century artists, Man Ray was in love with the energy of modern urban life—and the upward thrust of New York's skyline.
Francis Naumann: So there was an absolute fascination with the whole subject of skyscrapers. And to render them or to address them on any level was to render the modern. Render what was new.
Narrator: Francis Naumann is an independent scholar, curator, and art dealer, and author of Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray.
Francis Naumann: Man Ray lived. . .right next to what is today's Grand Central Station, in a building he said was constantly under construction. And he could hear them building Grand Central Station across the street from him and he loved the sound and the noise of the streets of New York City, because for him, that symbolized modernity, that symbolized what was new.
Narrator: Some of the city's chaotic spirit is captured in this work's origins. The work you see here is stainless steel. But the first version, from 1917, was made from some wood slats that Man Ray picked up off his studio floor and held together with a C-clamp. He noticed that it resembled a skyscraper, and so he named it New York.