Ce qui manque à nous tous, 1927, editioned replica 1973, consists of an inscribed clay pipe and an iridescent glass bubble. Its title, which can be translated as ‘What We All Lack’, does not prescribe the solution to life’s ills, but suggests at least that some part of the answer lies in the childhood pastime of blowing bubbles, in dreaming, and in the pleasure to be taken from evanescent beauty. According to Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray’s dealer and author of a monograph on him, the title was derived from a quotation from Engels, one of the founding philosophers of communism, ‘Ce qui manque à tous ces messieurs c’est la dialectique’ (’What these gentlemen lack is dialectic’), reproduced in capitals on the cover of the surrealist group’s magazine, La Révolution surréaliste (Paris, no.8, 1 December 1926). Man Ray told Schwarz, ‘Actually, I had in mind “imagination”, not dialectics, what we all lack is imagination’ (Schwarz, p.209).
The concept of the work dates back to 1927 when the Galerie surréaliste, Paris, announced the making of editions of this and other fantastical objects by several artists. It is questionable whether Man Ray made more than one of the advertised edition of twenty in this period, and it is believed the original prototype was quickly lost. In 1935 Man Ray made a replica that was included in the Exposition surréaliste d’objets held at the Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris, in 1936. According to the catalogue, the work was known as Ce qui nous manque à tous, a slightly different title but one which has the same meaning. The exhibition was accompanied by a theoretical text by the leader of the surrealist movement, André Breton (1896-1966), that described the many types of surrealist object and the ways they ‘perturbed and distorted’ conventional conceptions of reality. In the 1930s the surrealist object was conceived largely in terms of a psychologically charged notion of desire and in the light of the surrealists’ poetical testing of the descriptive role of language. Man Ray’s objects, however, typically expressed a lighter, more playful vision. This object was given life by nothing more substantial than air and the play of light on the iridescent glass surface that, like a photographic lens, can reflect an inverted image of surrounding reality. In contrast to Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), for example, Man Ray did not explore the psychoanalytic roots of personal obsessions and fantasies. His objects were not ‘objects of desire’ but rather, as he said, ‘objects of affection’.
In 1973 Man Ray authorized an edition of this work (nine examples, plus three trial pieces and three artist’s examples, of which this is one). (The date of 1962 given in the Paris catalogue of Man Ray’s objects in erroneous.) The edition was published by the Galleria Il Fauno, Turin. The title of these works was Ce qui manque à nous tous. The 1935 object had been retained by Charles Ratton after the 1936 show, and was later inherited by his son. It may be that Man Ray changed slightly the title of the work for the edition simply because he did not remember the original title correctly and did not have access to the original piece.
Lucien Treillard, Man Ray’s assistant in the period, found the pipes (still commonly available in the period) and had made the glass balls for the edition. May Ray inscribed the pieces with the title and date, and signed them with his monogram (letter from Treillard to Tate, dated January 2003).
Despite Man Ray’s status as one of the pioneering figures of interwar art, his objects are not particularly widely known. This is largely due to his greater fame as a photographer; but it is also in part due to the complex history of many of his objects. A number of the earliest works were lost or accidentally destroyed (the same is true of many of the early classic objects by his friend Marcel Duchamp). Others are known primarily as photographs reproduced in surrealist magazines and their status as objects has been obscured by the celebrity of the photographic images. In fact, Man Ray sometimes made objects in order to photograph them, and then discarded them, or reused them in other ways. He also remade some works, thereby creating new originals, and when, in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a greater commercial interest in the objects, he, like Duchamp, arranged for some of his objects to be produced in editions.
In addition to Ce qui manque à nous tous, Tate owns a number of other objects by Man Ray. These are New York, 1920, editioned replica 1973 (Tate T07882), L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse, 1920, remade 1972 (Tate T07957), Cadeau,1921, editioned replica 1972 (Tate T07883), Indestructible Object, 1922-3, remade 1933, editioned replica 1965 (Tate T07614), Emak Bakia, 1926, remade 1970 (Tate T07959), and The Lovers 1933, editioned replica 1973 (Tate T07958).
Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination, London 1977, p.209
Man Ray: Objets de mon affection, Paris 1983, pp.143-4 number 39, reproduced p.42