Diagram showing connecting artworks in the Man Ray room, part of Constellations at Tate Liverpool

Constellation of artworks in the Man Ray display

L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse consists of a sewing machine, wrapped in a blanket and tied with string. This enigmatic sculpture dramatically stages a concealed object, whose cloaking is suggestive of an unreal and potentially disturbing presence. Man Ray was inspired by a metaphor used by the French writer, Isidore Ducasse (1809–87), better known as the Comte de Lautréamont: ‘Beautiful as the accidental encounter, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.’ This phrase was greatly admired by the writers inParis with whom Man Ray was close friends and who formed the nucleus of theParis dada and later surrealist groups. They saw it as exemplifying a new kind of startling and non-rational imagery, as well as being replete with disguised sexual symbolism. (The umbrella was interpreted as a male element, the sewing machine as a female element, and the dissecting table as a bed.)

Man Ray, 'L'Enigme d'Isidore Ducasse' 1920, remade 1972

Man Ray
L'Enigme d'Isidore Ducasse 1920, remade 1972
Sewing machine, wool and string
object: 355 x 605 x 335 mm
Purchased 2003© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

View the main page for this artwork

The original artwork, now lost, was exhibited in the Exposition surréaliste d’objets at the Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris, in 1936. This work encapsulates the surrealists’ vision of what lay beyond rational understanding and the norms of daily reality. The wider constellation demonstrates the powerful impact of the sculptural lexicon of dada and surrealism across the twentieth century, in particular its complex legacies of the readymade and the fetish object. 

 Word cloud showing a snapshot of shared characteristics for artworks in the Man Ray constellation display at Tate Liverpool

Word cloud showing a snapshot of shared characteristics for artworks in the Man Ray constellation display at Tate Liverpool