This is probably the single most recognizable “cello” images to be found anywhere. I remember first studying Man Ray and the New York Dada in Art History Class and then later as I got into performing Dada and Fluxus works and doing performance art. In fact, it was one of the inspirations for an experimental cello video I did as part of a video collage component of a multi-media Performance Art performance I did at DePauw University back in 2002.
The Getty Museum has a very nice and concise description of the work:
Gelatin silver print
11 5/8 x 8 15/16 in.
Man Ray was an admirer of the paintings of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and made a series of photographs, inspired by Ingres’s languorous nudes, of the model Kiki in a turban. Painting the f-holes of a stringed instrument onto the photographic print and then rephotographing the print, Man Ray altered what was originally a classical nude. He also added the title Le Violon d’Ingres, a French idiom that means “hobby.” The transformation of Kiki’s body into a musical instrument with the crude addition of a few brushstrokes makes this a humorous image, but her armless form is also disturbing to contemplate. The title seems to suggest that, while playing the violin was Ingres’s hobby, toying with Kiki was a pastime of Man Ray. The picture maintains a tension between objectification and appreciation of the female form.
The video piece I did, titled le violoncelle de Silpayamanant, was simply a video of me ‘shaving’ one of my cellos. The title of the video fading into view at the end of the act and before the fade out the word “rase” (shaved) appears onscreen in my attempt to invoke Marcel Duchamp‘s “shaved Mona Lisa” series. Here’s a still from the video:
Apocalyptica invokes the image on the cover of their 2003 album, Reflections, and there are probably dozens of other variants of the work in image form out there. I’ve known at least three or four bellydancers and/or women cellists that have the f-holes tattooed on their backs.
But one of my favorite variants of this work is another Gelatin silver print of a live performance of one of my all-time favorite experimental cellists, Charlotte Moorman (who I mentioned in a previous post), and Nam June Paik playing John Cage’s 26’1.499″ for a String Player in 1965 (You can hear a live performance of Moorman performing the work at WBAI-FM Avant Garde Concert III. Originally broadcast December 12 & 17, 1964.).
This is a curious inversion of the objectification by Man Ray in that here, as you can see in the photo to the above-right, Charlotte Moorman is “performing” Nam June Paik as a “cello.” If only Paik had painted f-holes on his back then the homage would have been explicitly complete.
So interestingly bizarre how a simple concept and modification of a previous work of art can inspire such a large and extended body (no pun intended) of works. A whole book could probably be written about this Le Violon d’Ingres–maybe I should get to work on that, eh?