Emak Bakia, 1926, remade 1970, consists of an upright wooden part that resembles the neck of a ‘cello but which has had its strings replaced by unplayable, loose horsehair. The two locks of hair flow down the wooden neck and endow the piece with a sense of life. The original work consisted of the neck of an old ‘cello picked up in a Paris flea market and the horsehair of the bow used for playing the instrument. Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray’s dealer and author of a monograph on him, has written, ‘The ‘cello-neck looked worn and weathered, and Man Ray felt the urge to point humorously to its age: since it has grown old, he gave it a long white beard’ (Schwarz, p.155). Schwarz adds that the spiral form of the ‘cello probably held a fascination for the artist too. Man Ray once said, ‘Nature, from the sea-shell to the galaxy, is full of spirals: when I was a young man I was already obsessed by this form; when working as a draughtsman I was fascinated by curves, spirals, parabolas, hyperbolas.’ (Quoted in Schwarz, p.155.)
The work’s title, which means in Basque ‘leave me alone’, is the name of a house owned by Rose and Arthur Wheeler near Biarritz where Man Ray stayed and made an avant-garde film of the same name in 1925. This film, which Man Ray termed a ‘cinepoem’, was first shown in November 1926, and was hailed as a great piece of cinematography that melded aspects of dada and surrealism. The original version of the object was shown briefly in the film but was lost subsequently.
An edition of ten examples was made in silver in 1970 by the Studio Marconi, Milan, the same year Man Ray made this second original using wood. According to his assistant, Lucien Treillard, Man Ray did not particularly like the edition which had made the object appear too precious. He instructed Treillard to source materials in music shops. The piece is unsigned but listed in the 1983 Paris catalogue of Man Ray’s objects.
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, 1887-1968). 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 Emak Bakia, Tate owns a number of other objects by Man Ray. These are L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse, 1920, remade 1972 (Tate T07959), New York, 1920, editioned replica 1973 (Tate T07882), Cadeau, 1921, editioned replica 1972 (Tate T07883), Indestructible Object, 1922-3, remade 1933, editioned replica 1965 (Tate T07614), Ce qui manque à nous tous, 1927, editioned replica 1962 (Tate T07960), and The Lovers 1933, editioned replica 1973 (Tate T07958).
Man Ray: Objets de mon affection, Paris 1983, reproduced p.49
Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination, London 1977, p.155