Spectral color

VCUarts Alumnus’ Research Highlights Women and People of Color in VMFA Exhibit

VCU alumnus Madeleine Dugan stands outside the VMFA, where she worked as a research assistant on the current Man Ray exhibit. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Gabriela de Camargo Goncalves, Spectrum editor

Selna Shi, Contributing author

A VCUarts graduate, Madeleine Dugan spent her final semester at VCU researching and recontextualizing historical art for the “Man Ray: The Paris Years” exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

During this time, Dugan was assigned to help research the photographs featured in the exhibit. Dugan, an alumnus of VCUarts Crafts and Materials, said she spent time at the James Branch Cabell Library browsing its databases. She said she scoured the archives of Vanity Fair magazine and eBay Inc. to find vintage magazines related to the exhibit.

“Research-wise, it was kind of like a treasure hunt. I had moments where I was like ‘oh my God, I finally found it,'” Dugan said. “Something we were looking for to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.”

VCU alumnus Madeleine Dugan holds up her research notebook, where she uses an unsolarized photo of Man Ray to identify the camera he is holding. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

The exhibition, which opened on October 30, features the work of Man Ray, the pseudonym of Emmanuel Radnitzky, a American visual artist and photographer. Man Ray is best known for his contributions to the Surrealist movement – an art movement that highlighted the illogicality and nervousness of post-war Europe from the 1920s to the 1940s, according to the modern Art Museum.

Visitors to the exhibition can see more than a hundred photographs by Man Ray from his stay in Paris during “The Roaring Twenties”, French for “the Roaring Twenties”, the period of cultural prosperity of the French capital between the two world wars. The exhibition features portraits of cultural icons, including artist Pablo Picasso, author Ernest Hemingway and fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, according to the VMFA website.

As part of her research, Dugan focused on Ruby Richards, an African-American singer and dancer who worked in Paris. She is the subject of Man Ray’s 1938 portrait.”Ruby Richards with diamonds», presented in the exhibition. Dugan said Richards was a “star” in her own right.

“We kind of rediscovered his legacy,” Dugan said. “It was really empowering, to be able to give a voice back to women who had otherwise been erased from history, either because of racism, sexism, or just the men in their lives who were overwhelming them.”

During her research, Dugan spoke with members of Richards’ family about her life and career. “Introducing Ruby Richards,” an on-stage talk held at VMFA on Feb. 3, discussed Richards’ legacy, according to Dugan.

“I think people just forgot about it or, you know, like I think, unfortunately a lot of people of color end up being left out of the story because it’s white people telling the story all the time. “, said Dugan.

Dugan said she felt “extremely lucky” to have taken part in the research and said she had been inspired by the idea of ​​giving a voice back to Man Ray’s subjects, especially women and people from color.

“Many of the women on the show were seen as wives or ‘tragic loves’ of men whose names we know, when in reality they were artists, gallery owners, writers and strong women who deserve to have their stories told,” Dugan said.

Dugan’s research on Richards is ongoing and will potentially be used in a book by VMFA exhibit curator Michael Taylor, according to Dugan.

“Madeleine was involved in all aspects of this exhibition, including research, design, gallery layout, programming and catalog writing,” Taylor said in an email. “Her contributions to the exhibition have been immense and continue with things like her live poetry readings in the galleries every Wednesday. I’m so proud of everything Madeleine has done to make ‘Man Ray: The Years Parisians” a success.”

Taylor said he hopes the public will leave the exhibit with a deeper understanding of Man Ray’s techniques and accomplishments, as well as the stories of his subjects and their life in Paris.

Professor A. Blair Clemo of VCUarts, Dugan’s former ceramics teacher, said he encouraged Dugan in his artistic practices and the ability to connect narrative threads to tell stories in own work.“One of the most important things an artist does is pay attention; materials, processes, terrain and the world around them. Curators also need this foundational skill to be able to look deep, highlight connections and content that others may miss, and reveal it to an audience,” Clemo said in an email. “Madeleine’s experience as an artist is more than a foundation for doing things with her hands, it’s the ability to unpack the meaning of visual language.”

Madeleine Dugan poses for a portrait in Man Ray’s solarization process. Photo by Jeffrey Allison

Dugan said she hopes to work with forensic facial reconstruction while in school, but, after her work with Man Ray, she wants to continue her studies for a doctorate with a focus on conservation and research.

“But I really want to do conservation and research, because I think it’s so rewarding,” Dugan said. “And it’s fun. It’s just something I appreciate. I really like puzzles and being able to solve the puzzle.

Man Ray: The Paris Years, will be on display until February 21, 2022. For tickets, visit VMFA website.

Editor Grace McOmber contributed to this report.