Artist: Charles Ray (American, born Chicago, Illinois, 1953)
Date: 1973, printed 1989
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Dimensions: 68.6 x 101.6cm (27 x 40in.)
Frame: 76.2 × 109.2 cm (30 × 43 in.)
Credit Line: Purchase, Robert Shapazian Gift, Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr. Bequest, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel, and Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 1995
Accession Number: 1995.474
Rights and Reproduction: © Charles Ray
Trained as a sculptor in the early 1970s when Minimal art held sway, Ray became skilled in fine-tuning the abstract qualities of sculpture. He wielded scale and proportion with precise aplomb but found he could not stomach the cool, inhuman aspect of Minimalism. Ray instinctively knew that the artist's first concern when working in three dimensions is the human body—as reference, implicit subject, or field of experience.
Ray made this photograph of himself while in art school. A neat critique of abstraction, it represents an early victory in his campaign to recapture the body for art. The work also confronts the modern tendency to bind and gag our visceral responses. Hovering overhead in disquieting equipoise, Ray suggests both artistic control and personal submission; according to this duality, the picture's formal perfection is in service to a "happening," a gesture of aesthetic activism. The artist's deadpan, mock-aggressive tone is deliriously literal; with an irony worthy of Ray's idol, Buster Keaton, the photograph is a characteristically witty cross between a dangerously close call and a good joke.