Wendy A. Grossman. Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens. Washington DC: International Art and Artists, 2009. 184 pp.; 23 color ills.; 259 b/w. $39.95
Wendy A. Grossman’s thoroughly researched and lucidly written exhibition catalog Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens effectively reveals the process “by which African objects, formerly considered ethnographic specimens, came to be perceived as Modern art in the West” (XII). Photography and Man Ray are both at the center of this process, and given the wide range of interest which converges in the catalog, it will be of great interest to a variety of readers. At the core of the catalog is the argument that the photographs by Man Ray and other photographers of African art objects from the early twentieth century are anything but neutral. Grossman demonstrates that these photographs, in fact, not only serve to elevate the objects photographed from the status of ethnographic artifact to art object, but also to incorporate elements of those objects into the aesthetic and conceptual discourses of Modernism.
One of the most impressive aspects of the catalog is the way in which it is positioned to appeal to a spectrum of readers. For scholars of Man Ray or Modernist Primitivism it is required reading, offering exciting new research into little-explored aspects of these fields. For students of these topics or those with casual interest, Grossman provides concise contextual histories near the beginnings of most chapters which serve to ground the reader in the topic at hand. Several sidebars serve to illuminate aspects of the project not directly explored in the text proper, such as Charles Sheeler’s photographic album of the John Quinn collection, and Man Ray’s cover image for Henry Crowder’s book Henri Music which featured a photomontage of African objects. A “Concordance of African Objects” follows main text, providing substantial context on the African objects themselves and adding yet another dimension to the catalog.
The catalog is organized thematically and largely chronologically, with the first two chapters discussing the relationships between American modernism and African art, and the context for Man Ray’s interest in “primitivism” in his early career. In the following chapters, specific episodes of Man Ray’s work involving African art are discussed in detail. Underlying much of Grossman’s analysis is the contention that the production of meaning in Man Ray’s photographs is based more on their context than any other factor. Given that Man Ray’s work was visible in such a variety of contexts, and to a variety of audiences, this important point is often absent in analyses of his photographs, as Grossman points out.
In her final chapter, Grossman discusses several of Man Ray’s fashion photographs that contain African objects. Here she makes a compelling case for Man Ray’s work as a vital link between the Modernist Primitivism of the avant-garde and trends in fashion and illustration that make use of African art. Others have noted that this final chapter is perhaps less resolved than the others, and may seem a surprising choice with which to end the catalog. I however tend to agree with some that Grossman’s last chapter effectively opens up the topic to further investigation either by Grossman or another scholar.
 Rebecca Keegan. “Wendy Grossman, ‘Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens’”. H-Net Reviews. April 2010. Web. 17 December 2011.
 Elizabeth Harney, “Wendy A Grossman, ‘Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens’; Maureen Murray, ‘De l’imaginaire au museé: Les arts d’Afrique à Paris et à New York (1931-2006)’; Peter Stepan, ‘Picasso’s Collection of African and Oceanic Art’”. The Art Bulletin. Vol XCIII, no. 3. Sep 2011, 381.