“Faire un nouvel alphabet des charpentes usagées délaissées de la conversation ne peut conduire qu'à de nouvelles découvertes en langage.” [To make a new alphabet from the deserted, worn-out woodwork of conversations cannot but lead to new discoveries in language.]
– Man Ray, Preface
SIGNED FIRST EDITION MAN RAY ART-BOOK INCLUDING ORIGINAL RAYOGRAPH.
Following his English-language Alphabet for Adults, Man Ray in the lead up to 1970 decided to produce a French edition of his concept for a mature ABCs art-book. Rather than translating the existing words or retrofitting translations onto existing drawings, Man Ray produced a new set of illustrations based on a new set of words for his limited-edition, signed collection—including a signed original rayograph serving as a frontispiece.
A number of entries are seemingly innocuous and feature literal pictorial representations, such as “elephant” written over a drawing of an elephant or “barbe” [beard] labelling what is clearly a beard. But many of the lemmas are abstract in nature and require more involved figural interpretation: “beaucoup” [very much; many] clouded by several arrows directed to the upper-right corner of the page; “jalousie” [jealousy] reflected in an ocean; “réalité” [reality] printed against a single leaf. Mixing common nouns with other parts of speech, such as prepositions, pronouns and adjectives, juxtaposes the simplistic nature of the genre of children’s alphabet books with the “pour adultes” [for adults] designation. In addition, a number of thematic strands that run though Man Ray’s selection of words and images convey a mood more at home in the context of adult life—from mature vocabulary like “xérès” [sherry], “quarrelle” [row; dispute] and “fidèle” [faithful] to overtly intimate associations like “souple” [supple] which is placed in-between the tails of a whip. Moreover, words like “exact” [exact; true, correct], stretched across a chessboard above a smoking cigarette, exact less literal thinking all together. Overall, the selection of words, in a characteristically Surrealist style, seem at once random or irrational, yet are anchored by themes of desire, love and human relationships.
The rayograph, with coloured stencilling inked over the image of the feather, was issued loose as with the entirely of the publication and it is mounted on board wrapped in wood veneer. Rayographs, a self-stylised medium of camera-less photography akin to photograms, were produced by laying objects onto photo-sensitive paper before exposing it to light. The paper of the rayograph itself is very prone to marking and the one accompanying Alphabet pour Adultes is often found with visible scratches and scuffs. Additionally, the veneer mounting is prone to cracking due to stress around its contours. The present copy does not show such signs of wear, nor do any of the alphabetical lithographs, and is a fine copy of this rare Man Ray original.
RAY, MAN [MAN RAY]. Alphabet pour Adultes. Paris: Éditions Pierre Belfond, 1970. First edition, limited to 180 copies. Folio (330 x 280 mm), number 66 of 150 copies printed on large vélin d’Arches. Signed in pencil by Man Ray on limitation page. Complete copy, including all 38 original lithographs (including one used twice for the cover and title), plus the signed rayograph mounted on plywood on paper. Original wrappers, loose as issued; housed in publisher’s original orange cloth portfolio, with author’ name on spine. Slight bubbling to plywood mounting, otherwise fine. RARE, particularly in such fine condition.
Price: $9,500 .