Trivium Art HistoryMan Ray

Gift

Gift, 1921 — Man Ray
8 cm9.4 cm

Gift is a Dadaist, Iron Sculpture created by Man Ray in 1921. It lives at the Tate Modern in London. The image is tagged Sadism, and Sculpture. Source

Cadeau, 1921, editioned replica 1972, or ‘Gift’, is one of the famous icons of the surrealist movement. It consists of an everyday continental flat iron of the sort that had to be heated on a stove, transformed here into a non-functional, disturbing object by the addition of a single row of fourteen nails. The transformation of an item of ordinary domestic life into a strange, unnameable object with sadistic connotations exemplified the power of the object within dada and surrealism to escape the rule of logic and the conventional identification of words and objects. Man Ray once said,

‘There are objects that need names."

As described by Arturo Schwarz: Gift is a typical product of Man Ray’s double-edged humour. Its sadistic implications need not be stressed. Its erotic aspect is revealed by Man Ray’s remark:

"You can tear a dress to ribbons with it. I did it once, and asked a beautiful eighteen-year-old coloured girl to wear as it as she danced. Her body showed through as she moved around, it was like a bronze in movement. It was really beautiful."

Man Ray’s intentions, which might be seen as merely to deride the iron’s functions are much more subtle. Man Ray never destroys, he always modifies and enriches. In this case, he provides the flatiron with a new role, a role that we dimly guess, and the probably accounts for the object’s strange fascination.

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